England’s Nick Dougherty finally secured the win he wanted so badly with a two shot victory in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews. Dougherty fought off a series of challenges throughout the day from some of the best players in the world as he held on for a battling 71 and an 18-under-par total of 270.
It was a great weekend all round for the Brits who filled the first five places on the leaderboard with England’s Justin Rose second after a three-under-par 69 and the exciting Northern Ireland prospect Rory McIlroy one shot further back in third place after a thrilling 68 which was punctuated with birdies, bogeys and even a double bogey.
Scotland’s Paul Lawrie, the winner in 2001, and England’s Barry Lane, whose 67 was one of the best rounds of the day, were joint fourth on 14-under-par.
Dougherty, who let a three shot lead slip in the final round of the Italian Open in May, had said after his third round at St Andrews on Saturday that on this occasion he was determined to go all out for victory. “I’m going to go out there and shoot a great score. And if I do that, then it’s going to be hard to catch me,” he had said.
Dougherty had a four shot lead on this occasion and for a few nervous minutes at the start of his round it looked as if his worst nightmare was coming true again as he bogeyed the first two holes. However he pulled himself together and effectively won the championship with three successive birdies on the 5th, 6th and 7th. He added another on the 15th which meant he could afford to bogey the 17th Road Hole without doing any damage.
An emotional Dougherty, whose only other victory was in the Singapore Masters in 2005, said: “This is a life-changing win. It’s changed the perspective of the year. It’s changed where I am in the world and where I am with my own personal goals in my career. It’s one of our biggest events on Tour which attracts the stronger players such as the likes of Ernie Els.
“I’m especially pleased in the manner that I did it, particularly the way I dealt with the start today. I just trusted myself and I knew that I had the game to get it back, and I did. I made three lovely birdies in a row there. I didn’t have those attributes ten months ago and I think I’ve learned from the errors I’ve made in the past. Thankfully the errors have been in events that haven’t been as important as this one. It seems a long time since my win in Singapore”.
The 25-year-old from Liverpool, who received the first prize of £392,000 and also went to the top of the European section of the Ryder Cup points table, added: “The one thing I was going to make sure I was doing today was to walk off the course knowing that I had given total commitment. To be honest I didn’t play that well today, but I got most out of my round and consequently I won.”
Throughout the sun-soaked afternoon, the challenges had come thick and fast. Paul Lawrie, winner of the inaugural Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in 2001, was the first. A splendid outward nine of 33, including three birdies, seemed to put him in position to mount a serious challenge, but the birdies dried up on the back nine and bogeys at the 13th and 17th saw him going backwards. He eventually scored 71 to finish joint fourth on 14-under-par with England’s Barry Lane.
Then Irish prodigy Rory McIlroy looked to be staging an unstoppable charge towards the top of the leaderboard after a burst of five birdies in eight holes had taken him into third place. However a double bogey seven after driving out of bounds at the par five, 14th hole effectively finished his challenge, though he did come roaring back with birdies at the 15th, 17th and 18th for a four-under-par 68 to finish on 15-under-par, in third place on his own.
McIlroy said: “When I got to 15 under the first time, I thought I might have a chance, but then I almost immediately bogeyed the 12th and double bogeyed the 14th, but I came back really well. St Andrews is always a course where I have played well and I knew if I could go out and play the front nine in 32 or 33, which I did, I would be OK, but the par fives cost me. I played them in three over par which wasn’t too good, but I am not going to complain, because I played so well and hopefully this is a huge step for bigger and better things.”
At the time the most serious challenge seemed to be coming from South Africa’s World No 5, Ernie Els. Starting five behind, he had a solid outward 34, then exploded into life with three successive birdies from the 13th. At the time he was just one behind Dougherty and looked to be on one of his famous charges. However it all went wrong at the 16th, when he unaccountably putted too near a bunker and the ball dropped in. To compound the error, after splashing out on to the green, he three-putted for a triple bogey seven. Another bogey at the 17th Road Hole left him with a disappointing 71 in joint sixth place with fellow South African Trevor Immelman.
Justin Rose’s challenge proved to be the most serious. Birdies at the 1st, 10th, 12th and 15th got him to within one shot of Dougherty, but the Road Hole proved his undoing where a bogey five derailed his round and gave Dougherty the breathing space he needed. Rose, who finished on 69, said: “I’m a little disappointed. After birdieing the first hole, I think the front nine was where it hurt me really. I made nothing from that scoreable stretch from the 5th to the 9th. I think that was where the lead got away from me. I still thought if I could get through the 16th and 17th in pars and then have a birdie putt on the 18th I would have a chance, but it didn’t work out that way.
“I am pleased for Nick though. It’s a big step 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,” added Rose.
Open champion Padraig Harrington’s bid to win an unprecedented third Dunhill title in six years ended with his 73 which left him on 12-under-par. He said: “It’s been a great week and I’ve enjoyed it a lot as always, but today I would have liked to have been a little more focused on my putting. That was the story of today’s round really – on the greens. But obviously to go back to Carnoustie, where I won the Open, at the start of the week was really special for me.”
The victory maintains the remarkable sequence of British and Irish winners in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship since its inception in 2001. Along with Dougherty, the tournament has been won Padraig Harrington (twice), Paul Lawrie, Lee Westwood, Stephen Gallacher and Colin Montgomerie.
The tournament, conceived as a celebration of links golf, was played over three of the world’s best known and respected links courses - the Old Course at St Andrews, the Championship Course at Carnoustie and the highly regarded Kingsbarns Golf Links for the first three days, then the final round, with a cut field, was played on the Old Course.
Joining the professionals were an enthusiastic group of talented amateur golfers including Hollywood stars Dennis Hopper, Samuel L Jackson, Kyle MacLachlan and Bill Murray, popular British actors Hugh Grant and Dougray Scott, US TV star Ray Romano from Everybody Loves Raymond, George Lopez, US sitcom writer and actor, music stars Don Felder of the Eagles, Ronan Keating, Huey Lewis and Tico Torres of Bon Jovi.
Three of Britain’s greatest sporting knights – Sir Ian Botham, Sir Bobby Charlton and Sir Steve Redgrave - led a strong locker room of sports stars including football legends Johan Cruyff, Ruud Gullit and Matthew Le Tissier, Wimbledon tennis hero Boris Becker, cricket captains Michael Vaughan from England and Steve Waugh from Australia, South African rugby giant Morné du Plessis, American Football’s renowned running back Marcus Allen and Austria’s Olympic gold medal skier Franz Klammer.
* Picture by Getty Images
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