Søren Hansen followed his close friend and namesake Anders Hansen into the winners’ enclosure when he won the Murphy’s Irish Open at the fourth hole of a dramatic four man sudden-death play-off at Fota Island.
A month after Anders won the Volvo PGA Championship at Wentworth Club, Søren captured his maiden European Tour title with a birdie two at the 17th hole, the fourth play-off hole.
Richard Bland, Niclas Fasth, Darren Fichardt and Hansen finished the four rounds tied at 14 under par 270 but it took another four holes before the title was decided.
At the first extra hole, the 507 yard par five 18th hole, Fichardt was the only player to find the putting surface in two. The remaining three players were unable to make birdie, Bland coming the closest after chipping to ten feet but his putt horseshoed out. Fasth could do no better than a five after being forced to chip out to the fairway with his second shot and likewise Hansen also found trouble when his approach ran off the left edge of the green into the water. Having dropped under penalty he almost holed his chip but could do no better than a par.
Fichardt’s was faced with a three foot putt to win after his first putt slipped past the hole but the South African, seeking his second title on The European Tour International Schedule after victory in the Sao Paulo Brazil Open last year, pulled his putt wide.
All four players returned to the 18th and this time Bland dropped out, a pulled tee shot costing him dear as he was unable to match the birdie fours from the other three players.
The three remaining players moved on to the 409 yard first hole, each making a par four although the best chance fell to Hansen after pitching to 12 feet but he was unable to convert the birdie putt.
Finally the Hansen settled the matter on the fourth extra hole, firing a four iron to ten feet on the 222 yard 17th hole and then making no mistake with the putt to win the €266,660 (£172,678) first prize.
“It is strange to follow Anders,” said Søren. “It was always me doing something and Anders catching up afterwards. This time it was different when Anders won the Volvo PGA. The last few weeks I have been playing so well I thought it was just a matter of time.
“I played well the first two days but in the third and fourth rounds I was struggling but hanging in there and got the birdies at the right time. I played some cracking golf shots from the 15th and knew I needed an eagle on the last. I thought it was all over at the first play-off hole but Darren and Richard both missed and I then grabbed my chance.”
It was an outstanding performance by Hansen who only earned his place in the play-off with an eagle three on the final hole in regulation play, his pitching wedge from 160 yards nestling six feet short of the pin. The putt was duly converted to complete a closing round of 68, three under par, to keep his hopes alive.
Fichardt made the early running, bouncing back from two early bogeys with three successive birdies from the fourth to reach the turn in 35. He then moved into a share of the lead with Fasth when he chipped in for eagle on the tenth and when Fasth bogeyed the 12th he held the outright lead for the first time. A birdie on the 72nd hole set the clubhouse target of 14 under par.
Bland, who graduated from the Challenge Tour last year after winning the Grand Final, was the first to match that score, birdieing three of the last five holes for a round of 67, four under par. His playing partner soon joined him on 14 under par 270 and the group tied for the lead became four when Fasth birdied the last two holes in regulation play for a final round of 68.
Ultimately, however, it was Hansen who was the toast of Murphy’s. Hansen becomes the 11th first time winner on The 2002 European Tour International Schedule and only the fourth Dane to win on The European Tour after Thomas Bjorn, who finished alone in fifth place on 12 under par, Anders Hansen and Steen Tinning. The largest cheque of his European Tour career lifted him to 11th in the Volvo Order of Merit with €605,226.
Victory also helped make amends for his last play-off defeat when he and Bjorn lost out to South Africa in a sudden-death play-off for the World Golf Championships - EMC² World Cup in Japan last December.
Despite missing out on the title Bland remained up-beat. “If someone had said to me I would be in the play-off I would have snapped their hand off. Coming in here with four missed cuts my confidence wasn’t sky high. Under the circumstances I am very proud of myself the way I finished with three birdies in the last six holes.”
Fichardt was also pleased to put a run of poor form behind him. “Søren’s putter just worked better than mine today. I would have taken second at the start of the week and now I am looking forward to next week. This gives me some confidence. I have got my old game back and it is good to be up there.”
Fasth, who for a second successive year shot a course record 63, eight under par on his way to finishing joint second once again, commented: “The extra holes were not good enough. I am playing well and have a decent record over the last year. It is just a win that is missing right now. I had my chance this week. I just didn’t get that extra putt on the final day the winner always gets. I will have another go next week. I will get one sooner or later.”