Dunhill Links Frantic Finish

Old Tom apparently couldn’t find the real harsh stuff to throw at the players so he had to settle for a Scottish Haar, a coastal fog, to drape over the links at St. Andrews for the final round.  The low ceiling is like playing at dusk all day, it mitigates the depth perception and makes target visualization a strain.  It was chilly enough for hands in the pockets but without a breath of wind the Old Course was without it’s primary defense.

Starting the day five back and a group ahead of the leader Northern Ireland’s Michael Hoey, Rory McIlroy set a blistering pace shooting 30 on the front nine and grabbing the lead at 19 under  at the turn.  It was like Congressional all over again, his lyric swing in perfect balance, his approach play seemingly effortless and precise, and the hole must have looked the size of an ash bin to him.  He missed a makeable birdie on 10 but came right back on the 190 yard 11th, with the hole cut on a small inaccessible shelf on the back of the green, and knocked it stiff for a kick-in birdie to get to 20 under.

Graeme McDowell, the third Ulsterman in the mix, had his chances.  He hit it close a bunch of times but he putted without authority leaving himself hands on knees staring at his shoes wondering where his putting courage was today.

Michael Hoey would not go away.  He was stuck in neutral on the front side with two bogies early and two birdies on eight and nine.  After knocking it within birdie range a number of times on the back he finally converted a short one on fifteen to tie the lead at 20 under.  It was going to be a typical test of will and judgement over the closing holes at the Old Course-the Road Hole looming large between the leaders and the finish.

With Rory watching from the tee on 17, Hoey seized the lead outright knocking it stone dead to a testy pin placement on sixteen for a birdie.  Rory burned the edge on 17 with a long putt from off the front of the green and had to settle for par.  Hoey answered with a par of his own on the Road Hole to maintain his one-shot advantage.

After a well positioned drive on 18, It came down to Rory making a birdie pitch across the Valley of Sin to create a playoff.  Enter in Old Tom for the last word as McIlroy hit the perfect high pitch just behind the hole with what looked like just the right spin to leave it below the hole for an uphill birdie chance.  But after the ball seemed to come to a complete stop it got a finger shove from above and started creeping toward the edge of the false front ending up with a Costantino Rocca leave at the bottom of the hill off the front of the green.  Two putts from there left him stuck at 20 under and a shot behind.

Michael Hoey drove it to center and went the low pitch and run route through the Valley of Sin to leave it inside ten feet below the hole.  As an exclamation point he holed what was left to win by two and etch his name on this prestigious piece of hardware.

This was a fitting finish to what was a gripping day’s play at the ancestoral home of golf.

(Photos from Getty Images/EuropeanTour.com)

October, 2011

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