Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Irish Open: Mikko Ilonen's perfect start and finish to seal crown

Cream of the crop: Finn Mikko Ilonen secures his fourth European Tour success by winning the Irish Open by one shot at Fota Island

Mikko Ilonen lifted the trophy, but the roof was raised at Fota Island by such wonderfully noisy and enthusiastic crowds. It's patently clear the Irish Open must return, and soon, to the lovely banks of the Lee.

After a glorious, sun-splashed week in Cork, Ireland's national championship once again features as the best-attended European Tour event.

A whopping 104,801 people packed Fota over five days, which is 10,897 more than attended the showpiece BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth last month, establishing the Deerpark Course as the most player and people-friendly venue on Tour.

The Irish Open heads to Northern Ireland's Royal Co Down next May, where the atmosphere is expected to reach the fever-pitch attained at Royal Portrush two years ago.

Predictions that Fota Island Resort will be a front-runner for 2016 are premature, however.

Pending a review of this year's hugely-successful event by the resort's owners, the Kang Family – a Chinese hotel dynasty – with the European Tour, the resort's director of marketing, Seamus Leahy, said: "Two years may be a little too soon but, you can take it as guaranteed, we want it back."

The sooner the better, according to Ireland's Tour professionals. "I love the venue," says Padraig Harrington.

"I think it's great for a golf tournament. The setting, the type of course it is, nice practice facilities, there's a hotel on site and an airport nearby, it seems to have everything – including nice weather."

Graeme McDowell was so eager to provide "amazing crowds" at Fota with the home win they richly deserved, he admitted trying too hard to force his ball into the cup over the final two rounds, resulting in one of the most frustrating weekends of his career.

A share of sixth on 10-under, three behind high-flying Finn Ilonen, is McDowell's best finish in 13 appearances at the Irish Open, but that was of scant consolation to the Portrush man after he'd missed a dozen putts of 10 feet or less on Saturday and yesterday.

Rated one of world golf's deadliest putters, McDowell took just one of a procession of birdie chances his deft shot-making created during yesterday's frustrating even-par 71.

McDowell said: "There's no doubt that there is a certain mental process that you do go through when you start missing putts. You know the right thing to do is to keep trusting what you're doing, keep reading them correctly and keep faith in your technique. The wrong thing is to start to panic, start to over-reach, to question your mechanics and get anxious.

"On Saturday, I was mental state A and today I was mental state B," he added.

Ilonen, who ended up one shot clear of Italian Edoardo Molinari, said: "It doesn't get much better than this. It was very much a Martin Kaymer-inspired win. I sent a message to him last week that I really enjoyed watching the US Open.

"I very rarely enjoy watching it, I would rather play, but Martin's win inspired me."

Irish Open leaderboard: -13: M Ilonen (Fin); -12: E Molinari (Ita); -11: K Broberg (Swe), M Baldwin (Eng), D Willett (Eng); -10: G McDowell (NI), M A Carlsson (Swe); -9: R Fisher (Eng), M Hoey (NI), C Wood (Eng), R Finch (Eng), G Stal (Fra), G Bourdy (Fra)

Selected others: -8: P Harrington (Ire); G Maybin (NI) -5: M Fitzpatrick (Eng) -4: P Casey (Eng); +1: D Clarke (NI).

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