(Reuters) – England’s Nick Dougherty claimed his second title on The European Tour International Schedule with a two stroke victory in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews.
The 25 year old carded a closing one under par 71 over the Old Course for an 18 under par total of 270 which put him two ahead of fellow Englishman Justin Rose.
Northern Ireland 18 year old Rory McIlroy virtually guaranteed he would became the youngest Affiliate Member in the history of The European Tour player ever to earn a European Tour card by finishing third, a further stroke back, after a 68.
Dougherty had let two golden chances go begging this season for a second win – in Singapore in March and in Italy in May – but this time, despite a rocky start, there was no mistakes as he kept Rose, who posted a final round 69, at bay.
Starting three shots ahead of the field, it looked as though he might falter again when he bogeyed the first two holes but a run of three birdies from the fifth put him back on track.
Although he was caught and the tournament favourite Ernie Els was breathing down his neck coming home, Dougherty was never overtaken.
Els, who had drawn within a stroke of him at the 15th, triple-bogeyed the 16th by putting from off the green into a bunker and his nearest rival Rose took off the pressure by bogeying the 17th. Despite also bogeying the same hole, Dougherty prevailed to pick up the €562,624 (£392,368) first prize.
“Obviously I'm delighted to win but more especially in the manner that I did it. The start I had felt like a similar start to other tournaments where I had other chances to win. But you know, I spoke to my dad before I went out and I felt very nervous to be honest. It means so much, you know, to win, and as much as I really wanted for it not to mean that much to me, it's difficult. You know, it's my nature to care that much. I just felt it was in my hands.
“And it's a life changing win in that what it's done. It's changed the perspective of this year; it's changed obviously where I am in the world, where I am with my own personal goals in my career and what I've done. It's just so hard for me to go through the process without me jumping and wanting to get to the end too quickly.
“I've done fantastically well this year. It's because of what I've done that I was in a position to be able to win this week. The way I dealt with the start today, I didn't have those attributes, you know, ten months ago, and I think I've learned from the errors. And thankfully the errors have been in events that haven't been as important as this one, and so it's nice for me to get it right in the right place.
“So, you know, it is a relief, though, you're right. It's feels like it's been a long time since I've won Singapore, many opportunities not taken and many squandered. So it's nice to be on the receiving end of a trophy again.”
Rose admitted he was disappointed not to have come through and put pressure on Dougherty in the closing stages but his second place finish did allow him to substantially close the gap on Padraig Harrington at the top of the Order of Merit.
“After birdieing the first hole I think the front nine was where it hurt me really,” he said. “I made nothing through the scoreable stretch from five to nine and I think that was where the lead got away from me. But I was pleased the way I battled back into the tournament and I felt I did a lot of things right coming down the stretch – that is sometimes all you can do.
“I’m pleased with my game but I am also pleased for Nick, it is a big step up for him winning this week. To start the day the way he did with such a shaky start and to pull through is all credit to him. For me, the Order of Merit, now it is so close, it is a target, but I don’t think there is much pressure on me but it would be a huge bonus. I am now going to play HSBC, Portugal and Volvo Masters.”
Third placed McIlroy virtually guaranteed he would became the youngest Affiliate Member in the history of The European Tour earn a European Tour card with a stunning performance.
"I knew at the start of the week I needed to do something pretty special to get my tour card and I am absolutely ecstatic," he said.
"There have been a lot of great players come into the game pretty young, obviously Tiger (Woods) and Sergio (Garcia) and I'm trying to take it all in my stride. When I talked about my chances of making the card this week to Lee (Westwood) he told me I could win the tournament.
"When someone like Lee tells you that it gives you a lot of confidence. Hopefully this is a huge step for bigger and better things."
The 1999 Open Champion Paul Lawrie finished top Scot in fourth place and as well as being delighted at his own performance, took time out to praise the young Ulsterman.
“I played with him at The Belfry for the first two rounds and you can’t say enough about the guy,” he said. “He is a lovely young man and he is going to be a hell of a player. I spoke to his parents on the Friday night and they have obviously done a great job with him because he is a hell of a nice guy too as well as a great player. There is nothing he can’t do, so we’ll see how he gets on.”
As well as the main Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, there was also the amateur team contest which ran in conjunction with the main event all week.
That was won by the Australian pair of European Tour professional Scott Strange and 22 year old university student from Sydney, Robert Coe, who finished with a 38 under par total of 250. Robert’s father David was due to partner Strange in the event but broke his wrist two weeks ago and gave his place to his 12 handicap son. At least father David had the joy of walking the final 18 holes over the Old Course as his son triumphed.