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Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Top-10 greatest Irish Open moments 

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10. Woosnam beats Walton in a playoff 

In 1989, Welsh raider Ian Woosnam upset the applecart to deny home favourite, Philip Walton a famous Irish Open title. 

Flown to Dublin via Concorde to take on the famous links at PortmarnockWoosnam arrived off the back of a runner-up finish at the previous week’s US Open but had plenty left in the tank to mount another challenge on the Emerald Isle. 

The defending champion found himself locked on 10-under par with crowd favourite Walton after 72-holes, and with galleries packed on a sunny Sunday in the Capital, the pair embarked on another trip down 18 to decide the title in a sudden death playoff. Unfortunately for the home faithful, Woosie’s class came to the fore as he drained a 10-foot birdie putt to shatter Walton’s hopes. Philip could be consoled, however, as the Welshman went on to become golf’s world number one player two years later. Not a bad man to come second to. 

  1. Finch falls into the hazard on way to victory

Richard Finch made a legendary splash on his way to a memorable triumph in the 2008 Irish Open at Adare Manor. Playing the final hole, the Englishman faced a daunting task from the water’s edge to make the green in three, but pulled the shot off brilliantly, only to find that the weight of his momentum wasn’t done swinging yet. 

With his ball dry, Finch flew off balance and dunked himself in the drink to howls of laughter from the packed grandstands in Limerick.  

Thankfully, the sodden Finch was still smiling and why not, with three putts good enough to claim the title, and a warm shower awaiting his clubhouse arrival post-round. 

  1. Christy Jr is king at Woodbrook in 1975 

The Irish Open made its eagerly-anticipated return after a 25-year absence from the schedule when Woodbrook hosted the tournament in 1975. 

The event also represented the changing of the guard in many ways in Irish golf circles at least when the master, Christy O’Connor Snr handed the reins over to his nephew and apprentice, Christy O’Connor Jnr, who wowed home crowds en route to claiming a milestone win. 

In a field that included the likes of reigning Open Champion, Tom Watson, Jnr swept the stars aside with rounds of 66-70-69-70 for a 21-under par totalgood enough for a one-stroke win on a leaderboard that included Eamonn Darcy three shots back in a tie for third. 

For his part, “Himself”, Christy Snr wasn’t going to go down quietly either, burying a stunning ace at the par-3 17th on his way to a closing 71 and top-30 finish.  

  1. A return to Royal Portrush in 2012

The event may have been won by Welshman, Jamie Donaldson but the staging of the Irish Open at Royal Portrush in 2012 was about so much more than leaderboards and titles, at least for the people living on the island of Ireland anyway. 

The tournament returned to Northern Ireland for the first time since 1953, no doubt in recognition of the inspiring Major winning performances of local boys, Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell on the world stage. 

Any fears of controversy off the fairways was dispelled by the warm response of the galleries lining the outside of the ropes. They arrived in their droves, 130,000 or so likeminded golf enthusiasts who ensured the event was the first ever European Tour sell-out.  

The hosting of the tournament no doubt paved the way for what was Shane Lowry’s greatest stage last year when he triumphed at the 148th Open Championship at Royal Portrush but back in 2012, the spotlight belonged to Donaldson who fired five birdies in his closing seven holes to beat Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Anthony Wall and Fabrizio Zanotti into second place by four.  

  1. Langer leaves them all reeling at Portmarnock

No golfer speaks to German efficiency quite like Bernhard Langer who, to this day, remains a human ATM machine in the world of professional golf. 

Unsurprisingly, his machine like capabilities extended to Irish Open fairways in his pomp, where Langer was victorious, not once, or twice, but three times across three different venues. 

However, sandwiched between his first win at Royal Dublin in 1984 and his last at Mount Juliet a decade later was an astonishing 10-stroke triumph at Portmarnock in 1987.  

There, Langer was relentless, romping the field with four rounds in the sixties – 67, 68, 66 and 68 – to leave Sandy Lyle trailing in his dust on his way to a most comfortable win in front of 15,000 suitably impressed spectators. 

  1. John O’Leary leaves his mark in 1982 

Irish golf lost one of its favourite sons in March of this year when John O’Leary sadly passed away at the age of 70. 

The Dubliner left behind a lasting impression on the world of golf, but perhaps his most famous triumph happened on home soil when, in 1982, he became the first Irish winner of the tournament since Christy O’Connor claimed the title in 1975. 

His one-under par total around a dogged Portmarnock test proved enough to propel him to glory by a single stroke with Scottish legend and long-time Tour roommate, Sam Torrance – the defending champion that week – there to congratulate his friend upon victory at the 18th green. 

It took all of 25 years for an Irishman to follow in O’Leary’s footsteps when Pádraig Harrington captured the 2007 Irish Open at Adare Manor and like Torrance, O’Leary was there for Pádraig’s moment in the sun, commenting at the time; “I’ve had my time and they were special times. For the people who have made this great golfing country, it shouldn’t be 25 years since.” 

  1. Seve’s three-timer 

One thing that’s never changed in the world of golf is how the quality of the field dictates the quality of an event and back in the day, no star shone brighter than Seve Ballesteros. 

No wonder then that Irish crowds clung to Seve like one of their own any time he graced us with his presence. A record of four top-5 finishes from 1976 endeared him even further to the Irish fanbase but it was in the 80’s that the mesmerising Spaniard lay siege to our national open. 

In 1983, he performed a clinic at Royal Dublin prior to the tournament, treating amazed onlookers to his box of tricks, including his ability to smash a driver from his knees to the green at the near 260-yard 16th.  

Yet it was for the tournament proper that the 26-year old Seve saved his best act, signing off in style with a birdie at the final hole to finally claim a glistening Irish Open crown.  

He returned two years later to collect his second title at the same venue before completing his hat-trick amongst the dunes of Portmarnock in 1986, rubber-stamping his reputation as one of, if not the greatest golfing talent to ever grace an Irish fairway with club and ball.  

  1. Harrington ends 25-year home drought at Adare Manor

Irish eyes were belatedly smiling once more when the ever-popular, Pádraig Harrington banished the hoodoo for the home contingent and got over the line at the 2007 renewal at Adare Manor. 

After John O’Leary described his ’82 triumph as “a pain in the neck to those who came after me, Harrington, who had carried much of that weight of expectation in his own career thereafter, put paid to 25 years of pain for Ireland’s challengers when he got his hands on his national open. 

Getting over that line was no easy task, however, and his three-shot lead heading into the final day dwindled when Bradley Dredge threatened to scupper home celebrations by forcing a playoff with the Dubliner. 

Yet the blacks of Harrington’s eyes weren’t for shaking in the shootout and a par proved enough for Pádraig to take the title under intense pressure. 

It was a result that no doubt instilled the belief in Pádraig to go on to become the three-time Major winner he is today, and came just two months before he lifted the Claret Jug for the first time at Carnoustie. 

  1. Lowry shocks the world as an amateur at Baltray

We had a small house rented that was meant to be for 4 people max and I think there was eleven of us in the house on the Friday night and even more on the Saturday night. It was mental! 

That was Shane Lowry’s recollection of a house in Termonfeckin that he rented for the week that changed his life; his Irish Open victory as an amateur at Baltray in 2009. 

“The house was costing €400 for the week plus extra for electricity. We were going around in the dark not wanting to switch the lights on and run up a bill! On Sunday morning before I was leaving for the course, the woman that owned the house slid a note under the door. She obviously realised what was going on golf-wise and wished me good luck and the letter ended, ‘P.S the electricity is free!” 

Lowry left the house without breakfast that Sunday morning and had swing coach, come mind guru, Neil Manchip to thank for force feeding him much needed fuel at Baltray to ensure his charge wouldn’t faint on the first tee. 18-holes and a playoff later, he had defied the sideways rain and the odds stacked against an amateur winning, to make his mark in golf before ever committing to a career in it. 

“I can’t believe what’s after happening to me – life changing,” said Lowry as the hysteria around the green fell silent to allow the Clara youngster to speak post-round. 

“I’m sure I’m going to have a busy week ahead of me this week. I wouldn’t think there’ll be anyone working in Clara tomorrow anyway!” 

With the trophy going to Lowry, Robert Rock was consoled by the €500,000 first prize bonus that Shane’s amateur status couldn’t accept. Luckily, Lowry’s made up for that lost windfall plenty since. 

  1. The host with the most – McIlroy wins at The K Club

Say what you want about Rory McIlroy but for all his detractors, there should be a wealth of gratitude reserved for the Holywood star on Irish shores for all he’s done for the Irish Open. 

From when he was in the height of his powers in 2015 to when he passed on the torch in 2018, McIlroy plunged his efforts into resuscitating an Irish Open on the brink of extinction and left the tournament in a much better place than he found it after four years of hosting. 

With the Rory Foundation right behind the project, McIlroy’s stardom attracted truly elite global fields for Irish eyes to feast on and the only thing missing from McIlroy’s efforts was a leading performance of his own; that was until in 2016 at The K Club, in driving wind and rain, conditions supposedly unfavourable to Rory, he produced two of the best shots of his career under intense scrutiny to claim his Irish Open crown. 

His soaring five-wood at the final hole that set up a near tap-in eagle was a finish in the manner in which we’d come to expect of the mercurial McIlroy and earned him the honour of the 2016 Shot of the Year. However, for those who were there to witness it, it was his three-wood, launched two holes previous to an impossible target on 16 from all of 250+ yards into a gale, that was truly the standout shot of McIlroy’s final round. 

His unrivalled aggression that week was highlighted by his ability to take that shot on and his two-putt birdie set the stage for his final salvo on 18. Could he have done more for the Irish Open that year? Hardly, though that didn’t stop him donating his entire €666,000 winner’s cheque to charity.  

In truth, it was a toss-up between Lowry and McIlroy for top honours in this list but given the expectation levels of both players going into their respective weeks, for us, Rory edges the tussle to claim number one billing in our top-10 list of greatest Irish Open moments.  

Here’s to many more! 

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