Patrik Sjöland completed a double celebration in millennium year when, just seven weeks after the birth of his first child, he captured the Murphy’s Irish Open over the wonderful Ballybunion links in County Kerry.
The 29 year old Swede admitted that winning his second European Tour title couldn’t quite compare with the arrival of baby son, Hugo, but it was a close run thing as he edged out his friend and compratriot, Fredrik Jacobson, by two strokes after a final round of 70 for a 14 under par total of 270.
Of the last dozen players on the course, Sjöland was the only one to break par with his one under par round. It proved to be good enough to secure a two stroke victory over playing partner Jacobson (71), while third place went to Irishman Paul McGinley and Rolf Muntz of Holland a further two strokes adrift on 274.
Muntz, winner of the Qatar Masters earlier in the year, had gone into the final day leading by a stroke from Sergio Garcia, who was bidding to become the youngest player in European Tour history to make a successful defence of a title. He went into the final round one behind Muntz, but several uncharacteristic errors proved costly and the young Spaniard finished in a tie for 10th spot.
Sjöland, Jacobson and Muntz enjoyed a battle royal around the turn, with all three leading or sharing the lead at some stage. However, Muntz was first to slip back when he took a double bogey seven at the 11th hole, where moments before Sjöland had made a birdie four.
Earlier the figure seven had been Garcia’s undoing. After three holes he was level with his three rivals at 13 under par, but three chips at the unforgiving fourth hole cost him a triple bogey. With it went his chances of defending and another seven at the 11th put paid to his assault on his third Tour title.
Jacobson, meanwhile, birdied the 15th and, with Sjöland bogeying the 14th and 15th, it seemed that the Swede who finished third in the Celtic Manor Wales Open then second in the Compaq European Grand Prix last week was destined to add a No.1 to his list of accomplishments.
Instead, the tournament swung back Sjöland’s way at the short 16th. After splashing out of a wicked lie in a bunker to 18 feet, he rapped in the par putt. Jacobson, who might have anticipated being two strokes ahead, was still one ahead.
That situation did not remain for long. A wayward drive at the 17th cost Jacobson a bogey while Sjöland pitched and putted for a birdie four. That two shot swing proved critical as Jacobson went for a big drive on the 18th, pushed it badly and had to take a drop under penalty. A second successive six left Jabcobson runner-up again.
However Sjöland had words of encouragement for his defeated countryman. He said: “I felt sorry for Freddy but he’s playing awfully good golf and I think his first win is not far away.”
Sjöland admitted that the 16th hole held the key. He said: “If I had missed I would have been two behind and I think Freddy would have felt safer on the 17th tee and not gone for such a big drive. Once he took a drop at the 18th I realised that I needed a five to win.”
Jacobson said: “I’ve had three good weeks and I got one shot closer this week. I tried to learn from finishing second at Slaley Hall and I thought I handled it well and tried not to get too pumped up. I just didn’t give myself a chance on the 17th and was probably trying too hard on the last.”
Garcia, who shared the first round lead with Sjöland after a 64 – the same score which he shot to win the title in 1999 – was philosophical about his finish. He said: “It wasn’t meant to be. You try your best but sometimes it doesn’t got right. There is always next time and hopefully I’ll be back in 2001.”
The enthusiastic Irish supporters were thrilled to see McGinley make a bold challenge. The Dubliner closed with a 71 for a share third with 54-hole leader Muntz, but might have been closer but for a missed four footer for an eagle. Irritated, he then took a double bogey at the 12th but made amends by chipping in for an eagle at the 17th.
“It was a great week. I enjoyed it” he said. “It was great to play a links course this week and The K Club next week. It’s a great contrast and shows the best of Irish golf.”Final Day Video HighlightsFinal Results