Sunday, 18 February 2007

Mikko Ilonen inked his name into the record books when he emerged as the first Finn to win on The European Tour International Schedule following a one stroke success at the Enjoy Jakarta Astro Indonesia Open on Sunday.

The 27 year old battled through the inclement weather and fended off three other challengers to complete the final round in one under par 70. Ilonen delivered a winning total of nine under par 275 at the Damai Indah Golf & Country Club to walk away with a first prize of €134,563 and a priceless two-year exemption to The European Tour.

Filipino Frankie Minoza, who won his own national open two weeks ago, was tied with Ilonen for much of the final day but suffered a double bogey on the 14th hole and finished even par for the day in joint second spot.

Alongside Minoza on eight under par 276 was India’s Shiv Kapur, who was round in 67, and Australian Andrew Tampion, who bogeyed the last for a 69 to complete a hugely creditable showing in only his fourth European Tour event.

All four of the leading challengers were hoping to land their maiden European Tour title but in the end that honour went to Ilonen, who could afford the luxury of bogeying the final hole and still claim victory.

“I think it is a big thing for Finnish golf. We’ve had two wins on the Ladies European, some on the Challenge Tour but none of The European Tour. It is a very special thing for me to be the first one and I’m starting to get some press time again.

“It is really important to be in the media to boost golf back home. Golf is growing in Finland, but I think it’s growing a bit slowly. Hopefully I can help it by getting positive media, which should help get more golfers back home and maybe some good golf courses as well,” said Ilonen.

Following his tied seventh place finish in Malaysia last week, Ilonen had arrived in Jakarta full of confidence and opened his account with a 66 to shoot right to the top of the leaderboard. He added rounds of 68 and 71 to share the 54 hole lead with Minoza and on Sunday finished the job with three birdies against two bogeys, either side of a delay due to lightning.

He revealed that the enforced weather break had been a help rather than a hindrance, as he could take on board some food. “A few minutes before the announcement was made that we were restarting I had a pretty big lunch and I always feel like I am swinging really softly after I have just eaten. Somehow I hit the middle of the club face all the time.”

Third-round leaders Ilonen and Minoza were tied on nine under after ten holes when play was suspended due to lightning at 1.30pm for the fourth consecutive afternoon.

When play resumed one hour and 45 minutes later, Ilonen stole ahead with a birdie on the 12th, only to find himself tied again one hole later when he missed a short birdie attempt after Minoza had drained a 12-footer.

However, the Finn would go ahead for good at the 14th after Minoza found thick rough to the left of the green and duffed his recovery shot en route to a double bogey.

“I hit it left and had a bad lie. I hit a flyer again and my third shot was worse than my first, as it went into the rough and came out with a double bogey. But I never gave up and I kept on fighting. Anything can happen at this course. But Mikko was so good and very steady. He just played on and never looked back. I am not disappointed because I still delivered a good result,” said Minoza.

Ilonen had a minor scare on the 17th when he found rough to the side of the green but a superb recovery shot allowed him to remain on 10 under.

That would prove vital at the 18th as he missed a short putt for par but still holed out for bogey to claim his maiden European Tour title.

Tampion mounted a late charge, pulling to within a stroke of Ilonen with a birdie at the 17th but the Australian rookie's hopes evaporated when his wayward drive at the final hole resulted in a bogey, which saw him drop back to eight under.

Tampion, who only turned professional last November after coming through the Qualifying School, took great store from his own performance. “Now I have a benchmark – I know I can compete with the guys here on The European Tour. Obviously I am disappointed to finish as I did, with a bogey, but I have performed well and I am having a ball on Tour,” he said.

Kapur, who fired five birdies against a lone bogey, almost stormed to the top at the par five 17th hole when his second shot struck the base of the flag. However, his ball ricocheted into the rough, from where he two putted for par.

“Even if I was nine under and one shot behind, I know that the 18th hole is not easy but it wasn’t the case so it’s fine,” said Kapur, who was the 2005 Asian Tour’s Rookie of the Year.

“I started off well and played a couple of decent rounds this week. Anytime you have two solid scores, you are always happy,” he added.

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