Scotland's Paul Lawrie conjured up another miraculous putt from the 'Valley of Sin' on the Old Course at St.Andrews to capture the inaugural Dunhill Links Championship by a stroke from Ernie Els. Lawrie's 40 foot birdie putt dropped in for a round of 68 and 18 under par total of 270 while Els took second place with England's David Howell third.
In a dramatic finish reminiscent of the 1995 Open Championship and the 2000 Alfred Dunhill Cup, when Costantino Rocca and Miguel Angel Martin holed vital putts from off the last green, Lawrie also found inspiration.
Els, also round in 68 thanks to a 12 foot birdie putt at the last, had exerted pressure on the 1999 Open Champion by reaching 17 under par for the 72 holes, the last 18 of which were completed on Monday due to inclement weather which caused several suspensions to play during the week.
Lawrie, who had not won since his triumph at Carnoustie two years ago, began solidly with a one under par 71 at the scene of his famous victory and followed that with a 68 at Kingsbarns. However the Aberdonian exploded into life with a record nine under par 63 for the lengthened Old Course.
Starting on Monday morning level with Paul McgGinley on 14 under par, Lawrie birdied the second, fifth, seventh and ninth to reach the turn in 32 to build a two shot lead from Howell and three over Els.
Lawrie then parred the next seven holes as Els birdied the tenth and 13th to close the gap. Howell bogeyed the 16th and 17th to miss out on a winning chance, but hit back with a birdie at the last to claim outright third.
Els, meanwhile, appeared to have handed the title to Lawrie when he took two shots in the Road Hole bunker at the penultimate hole and made a bogey. However his perfectly paced birdie putt on the last dropped just minutes before Lawrie three-putted the 17th from long range.
Now the pair were level, and when the Scot’s soft sand wedge to the last spun back into the ‘Valley of Sin’, Els viewed the action even more intently from the sanctuary of the recorder’s hut.
However that piece of St Andrews real estate has seen many moments of high drama, and the climax to the Dunhill Links Championship was no less explosive. Rocca memorably reached a play-off with John Daly in 1995 and Martin’s birdie putt against David Frost in the last Alfred Dunhill Cup was equally exhilarating.
This time, Lawrie took aim and his putt was judged to perfection, prompting an out-of-character victory jig by the usually undemonstrative Scot. Victory was worth 881.251 euro (£551.040) and propelled Lawrie to eighth in the Volvo Order of Merit. Retief Goosen of South Africa, who finished tied ninth, still holds a commanding lead over Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland in the race to be Europe’s Number One.
Lawrie said: “I was trying to give myself a chance of a play-off at the last and making sure not to three putt. It’s been a tough year for me – but it’s good now. It doesn’t get much better than to win at the Home of Golf.
“Obviously it was a tough week for everyone with the fog and rain delays but great credit to the officials and all the staff who made sure the tournament was completed.”