Damien McGrane made it a hat trick of Irish PGA Championship titles as he pipped Brian McElhinney to the post after a rollercoaster final day in Carne.
Three birdies in his last five holes helped McGrane come from one behind to win by two shots on eight-under after a three-under 69.
McElhinney did little wrong in his one-under 71 but McGrane, who had very little expectations heading into the event, proved too strong as he moved alongside Simon Thornton in the roll of honour.
“It just shows you! Grit and determination got me through,” said McGrane whose son Ethon made his debut this week. “I played lovely. I found great form in the middle of the second round, I played almost perfect golf yesterday and the same today. I had a good finish and Brian played really well and I just managed to sneak ahead with two holes to go.
“It was a great week for me I came here expecting nothing and found form! My daughter Gemma and Odhran were here with me today so to have them was the highlight for me. To have my daughter caddy for me is a lifelong memory made for both of us.”
The tide turned after what McGrane described as a “body blow” double-bogey on 13 saw him relinquish his lead but a bounce back birdie on the par-3 14th rejuvenated his challenge and he wrestled back control down the stretch.
“It steadied the ship, [the birdie] it was a body blow. I was expecting to birdie the par-5 and walk away and I had my first double bogey of the week out of nowhere.
“I started again on the 14th back hitting good shots again and got a little bit of reward for the golf I played by birdieing three of the last five.”
The day soon turned into a two-horse race as Colm Moriarty and 2013 winner Michael McGeady faded while Simon Thornton and Richard Kilpatrick (both 69s) made progress but not enough.
McGrane admitted he did not feel like he was in a matchplay situation with McElhinney believing the Wild Atlantic Dunes course is too difficult to get caught up in what other players are doing.
“The strength of Carne Golf Links is that it is a very difficult course and you have to be on the ball and focused on your own game, play to your strengths, box clever and be wise,” he explained. “If it was a matchplay situation, the chances were the two of us would fall away. I stuck to the game plan and tried to make as many pars and birdies as I could and that’s what I did.
“What happened between myself and Brian happened anyway and I wasn’t too interested in how he was going because the battle for every player out here is between himself and Carne Golf Links.”
The Carlow Golf Club professional teed off tied at the start of the day with McElhinney and he landed the first blow with a birdie on the 2nd to move to six-under for the championship.
Former Amateur champion McElhinney responded immediately with a brace of birdies while McGrane dropped a shot on the par-5 4th.
A dropped shot on the 5th saw McElhinney’s lead reduced to one and the pair traded birdies on the par-5 8th with the Donegal man holing from 15-feet after McGrane had stiffed a wedge to a foot despite playing into a howling gale.
North West professional McElhinney turned with a one-shot lead on seven-under before McGrane drew level after knocking a wedge to seven-feet and rolling it in for birdie on 12.
Disaster struck for the Kells native who found trouble on the left of 13 forcing him to play a provisional second shot. He managed to get down in three from a horrible lie in the fescue for a double-bogey seven but he was let off the hook somewhat after McElhinney three-putted from 20-feet for a six.
That double did little to rattle the 51-year-old who lay down by the 14th green basking in the Belmullet sun and there was another massive swing in the pendulum on that hole as McElhinney saw his birdie putt slip by and McGrane ram his in to draw level on –6.
“The old man done it!” – beamed McGrane after the win, and he certainly used all his experience down the stretch with birdies on seventeen and eighteen to take the title away from McElhinney.
The former European Tour winner rolled in a 12-foot birdie putt on the penultimate hole to edge his nose in front before sending a 3-wood fizzing through the wind off the 18th tee.
After McElhinney ran into difficulty – but did well to save his par – McGrane got up and down from just over the back of the green for the birdie and a two-shot win and that winning feeling is still the same as it was earlier in his career.
“You still dig deep, rely on what you knew in the past. I think the realisation is that days like these are few and far between for me now at this stage of my career so to win is special. I might never get the opportunity again to hold the trophy so today I went out and won the trophy.
“I’m very proud of myself and to have Gemma and Odhran here means the world to me.”
For McElhinney it would have capped a great career to have bookended it with an Amateur title and a maiden Irish PGA Championship and the former Masters participant accepted he was beaten by the better player.
“Definitely not how I was looking to finish you’re always looking for the win,” said McElhinney who played with McGrane for the first time in his career today. “I was happy with the way I played, obviously conditions were very tough for scoring.
“I was happy enough to get around with three under par rounds. I felt as if I played quite well today but didn’t make enough birdies, a couple of dropped shots proved costly at the end.
“Damien was so solid tee to green and it was just one of those days where I didn’t get it going enough to get it over the line. There were a few times where the lead changed and in fairness to Damien he played great and never looked like doing anything wrong.
“I couldn’t have asked much more of myself from tee to green bar the second shot to the last, can’t complain too much, Damien played really well.”
Waterville’s David Higgins rounded off the defence of his title with a joint-best of the day 68 to finish 8th on two-over while only five players finished in red figures at the end of the week.
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