All week he led the way and now the silver medallist, Ronan Mullarney, is champion of the AIG Irish Close after a nail biting one-hole win against Rob Brazill.
Mullarney, 23, produced the goods again to deny the Naas powerhouse, Brazill, in the decider. The Galway blazer never trailed and though he stumbled at 17, missing a six foot putt to win the match, Mullarney emerged triumphant on 18 when Brazill failed to birdie.
“I am absolutely delighted,” Mullarney gushed. “It did absolutely grate on me that I haven’t won one of these before. I am delighted.”
With this, his maiden championship, the Ireland international emulates Cormac Sharvin of Ardglass, who won as leading qualifier at Connemara in 2013.
“Any time you are on a list with Cormac, it is a good thing,” Mullarney reflected. “You are not here to be the leading qualifier. You are here to win. So I was delighted to be the leading qualifier but you are here for the trophy.”
Playing in his first major final, Mullarney pursued the prize with resolute desire. A dogged campaigner, undaunted by the challenge, he plotted his way to victory on a majestic day at Ballybunion.
For the first time this week, the players took to the Old Course unburdened by approaching weather fronts. A stunning day by the seaside, sun beating down, allowed the golfers to shine.
Brazill’s bunker skills secured an early half when under pressure at the third. Although his driving went askew down number four and lost him the hole, he recovered immediately with a tidy birdie four.
At number six, Mullarney’s game went up a notch. With his rival tucked in close, he holed from 20 feet to win against the head.
“I suppose the 6th was a bit of a sickener,” Brazill admitted afterwards. “Hitting it in close there and then he rolls it in.”
Rising to the challenge, the Kildare man responded at the eighth by making two. All square playing nine, the match took another turn when Brazill went right beyond the green. Unable to salvage bogey after his pitch rolled back down the bank, Mullarney went through the turn with a narrow lead again.
For the next five holes, they matched each other blow for blow. At 15, Brazill ceded crucial ground when his putter let him down. A bogey there doubled Mullarney’s lead. And when they halved 16 in birdie, the match was almost done.
Time, still, for another twist. Pin high on the 17th green, Mullarney three-putted with the title at his mercy. Brazill scrambled bravely from a mound of rough and stayed alive for one more drive.
With trademark whack, Brazill landed 60 yards short of the green. Mullarney, adopting the same cautious approach that served him well all through, found the fairway with an iron. He dispatched his second shot flush into the centre of the green.
Time then for Brazill to strike. His approach stopped 15 feet short, far from an outside chance. Mullarney secured his par with ease but watched tensely what Brazill could do.
“I was certain that putt was in on 18,” Brazill said ruefully. “It would have been nice to make the birdie.”
When that final try failed, Brazill flung his putter into mid-air.
“I knew Ronan was never going to make a mistake,” he stated. “He just doesn’t hit it off line. He knows where it’s going every single time. I know I am capable of a two-way miss, even with an iron. I don’t think he knows what a miss is and he’s a really good putter. He’s such a hard man to play against. You really want to be on your game if you’re playing him.”
All week Mullarney has conquered and for the final he conjured one more conquest. His defeat of Brazill, in an epic title showdown, resulted in his finest glory.
“It was like playing a robot for the first 15 holes,” said Charlie Denvir (Elm Park), who lost out to Mullarney in the semi-finals by one hole. “Any time Ronan makes a mistake, he hits a great chip to stone dead or even if his chip isn’t great, he’ll hole an eight footer all day.”
Those skills took Mullarney to the title. For Brazill, whose two hole win against Alan Fahy (Dun Laoghaire) secured his final berth, there was the consolation of an Ireland cap.
“Deadly, happy days,” he beamed when told the news.
By virtue of this performance, Brazill can finish no worse than second on the Bridgestone Order of Merit. The prize for finishing in the top three is an automatic pick for the Home Internationals at Lahinch in September (11-13). This weekend’s Mullingar Scratch Trophy is the final Bridgestone event of the season.
Mullarney, a former winner, is not competing at Mullingar but will be wearing green if selected for the Home Internationals before taking aim at the European Tour’s Qualifying School.