Hoey triumphs in the battle of the Ulstermen

10/2/2011 4:56:49 PM
Michael Hoey  (Getty Images)
Michael Hoey (Getty Images)
Michael Hoey wrote another glorious chapter in the remarkable story of Northern Irish golf after holding off illustrious compatriots Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell to win the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.

Hoey, who began the week 271st in the Official World Golf Ranking, carded a final round of 68 at St Andrews for a 22 under par total of 266 to claim his second European Tour title of the season and the first prize of €588,148.

McIlroy finished two shots behind after a closing 65, with the man he succeeded as US Open Champion, Graeme McDowell, sharing third alongside Scotland's George Murray a further two strokes back.

"It hasn't sunk in yet and it won't for a while," Hoey admitted.

"It's taken a long time but I supposed in a weird way you enjoy it more because you have struggled through six goes at the Qualifying School.

"It's not nice running out of money, being away from home, questioning your swing, and there are points where you wonder 'Do I want to continue with this."

Hoey, 32, began the final round three ahead of McDowell and five clear of McIlroy, only for McIlroy to card four birdies and an eagle in a brilliant front nine of 30 to move into the lead.

The US Open Champion birdied the second and then holed his second shot to the par four third for an eagle two, his approach pitching past the flag but spinning back into the hole.

Further birdies at the sixth, seventh and ninth took McIlroy top of the leaderboard before Hoey hit back from his second bogey of the day on the seventh with birdies at the eighth and ninth to draw level.

McIlroy pulled ahead again after a superb tee-shot on the par three 11th finished just two feet from the hole, but that surprisingly proved to be the 22 year old's last birdie of the day.

Hoey missed from four feet for birdie on the 14th after hitting two drivers to the front of the green - "I felt I was throwing this away at that stage," he admitted - but quickly put that disappointment behind him with birdies on the next two holes from close range to take a lead he would not relinquish.

"Playing with Graeme (McDowell), he's such a battler and wanted to win himself, but he said to me a couple of times on the green 'Knock it in' and fortunately at the end I was able to put a bit of fight in myself," Hoey added.

"I knew I had to hit two of the best shots of my life into 16 and 17 and I was really pleased I was able to produce those."

McIlroy admitted he was disappointed not to have secured his third European Tour title, having played the first 11 holes in seven under par but then failing to pick up another birdie.

Even the continued success of Northern Irish players failed to comfort McIlroy, who said: "Yeah it's great to see but to me, I don't care who wins now because I'm not.

"I've been very consistent, which is a good thing, but I want to get wins and that's the most important thing. It's good to be one, two, three and see all of us boys up there, I'm just obviously disappointed that it wasn't me lifting the trophy.

"I'm sure it will be a long flight to Korea in the morning thinking about it."

Murray, from nearby Anstruther, started the week in 183rd place on The Race to Dubai but quadrupled his year’s earnings for his share of third place.

And the 28 year old admitted some of that cash would be spent on a few drinks in celebration.

"I've got a flight at noon tomorrow to Madrid for the next tournament but I think I could struggle to make that," he said.

"I must admit, when I stood on the first tee and they announced I was playing with World Number One Luke Donald, I thought 'Oh no, that's me, three rounds just gone to gravy'. But I managed to get it around pretty good despite being nervous the whole way round."

As for Donald, he had to settle for a share of ninth after a closing 70, with his lead over McIlroy at the top of the Race to Dubai cut to just under €1,300,000.