Colin Montgomerie followed Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo and Bernhard Langer into the golfing record books by becoming only the fourth player to capture three Murphy’s Irish Open titles when he shot a closing 66, five under par, for an 18 under par total of 266 at Fota Island in Cork.
The 38 year old Scot, without a European Tour victory since completing his Volvo PGA Championship hat-trick last May, led from start to finish to record the 25th European Tour title of his outstanding career by a five stroke margin.
Montgomerie, who climbs from 13th to sixth in the European Ryder Cup points table, won back to back titles at Druids Glen in 1996 and 1997 and he returned rounds of 63-69-68-66 to claim his third crown in front of massive and enthusiastic crowds in warm sunshine.
1043337]Ireland’s Darren Clarke and Padraig Harrington rewarded their vocal supporters over a glorious weekend to share second place along with Niclas Fasth of Sweden on 271, 13 under par. Clarke, who holed a birdie putt on the 36th hole to make the cut on Friday night, finished splendidly with rounds of 65 and 64 while Harrington shot 68-64 over the last two days to match Clarke’s total.
Fasth, last year’s Madeira Island Open champion, charged through the field on the final day, carding an eight under par 63 to equal the course record for the redesigned Fota Island course with Montgomerie, who set the new mark on the opening day to secure a lead he maintained over all four rounds.
Victory moved Montgomerie from 41st to 12th in the Volvo Order of Merit with 489,751 euro (£296,830) and was quick to stress the importance of that 25th European success which eases his concern about automatic qualification for the 34th Ryder Cup Matches in September.
He said: “Having gone for the longest time since 1991 without a win, this was possibly the most important victory of any. When you haven’t won for 13 months you wonder if it is going to happen again and you put pressure on yourself.
“I came here with a slightly different attitude of mind and enjoyed the course in the practice round. I went out and shot 63 and led the whole way. That was very satisfying, having not won for so long. To score 66 on the last day and only have one bad shot proves there is nothing much wrong with my game.”
Montgomerie’s one error came at the eighth, which provided the critical element in an otherwise straightforward day for the new champion. His second shot ended in the water and, after taking a penalty drop, he left his chip short and a double bogey six was the consequence.
Adam Scott, the young Australian who was partnering Montgomerie after starting the day three behind, failed to capitalise. He three putted for a bogey five and an opportunity to get within a stroke of the leader had disappeared. Scott closed with a level par 71 to finish in a tie for sixth, one behind Thomas Björn. Simultaneously, the Dane, who had gone out in 31 and birdied the tenth to challenge Montgomerie, took a double bogey at the 13th and his charge came to an abrupt halt.
Those pivotal moments enabled Montgomerie to steady his ship and the rest of the journey was a serene one. He repaired the damage inflicted by his double bogey by promptly birdieing the ninth and tenth and a further birdie at the 13th told him that the title was indeed his.
Harrington, with an inward 30, earned 119,310 Ryder Cup points to overtake Pierre Fulke and move to the top of the qualifying table, in which Clarke is now third, Björn fifth and Montgomerie back in the top half dozen in sixth spot.
Harrington insisted he always had faith in Montgomerie’s ability to return to winning form, despite his lack of success over the past year. He said: “I wasn’t too worried. It was always the case that he was going to come back to form and I think people were getting worried about him a little bit prematurely.”
Clarke made a superhuman effort to get back into a tournament he looked like departing on Friday night. His total of 129 for the last 36 holes was the best of any competitors and he commented: “To make the cut right on the mark and finish second was a pretty good effort. Obviously I would love to have won, but I tried my best. The crowds were fantastic and hopefully at some stage in the future I will have a chance to win this title.”