A final-round 62 saw Denmark’s Smilla Soenderby blaze a trail up the leaderboard and emerge victorious from a three-player playoff and secure her maiden professional win at the KPMG Women’s Irish Open at Dromoland Castle.
Starting the day at -6, the 23-year old fired 11 birdies during her 18 regulation holes, with a single bogey coming at the par-4 14th. Her five birdies on the front were each spaced with a par in between, but it was on holes nine through 12, which she’d cover in four-under, where her candidacy for victory became evident.
The bogey at 14 could so easily have derailed things, but she’d respond with birdies at 15, 16 and 18 to post -16 and begin the long wait around the clubhouse in hope rather than expectation.
Anne Van Dam, the three-stroke overnight leader boiled hot and cold in the final round, mixing five birdies with four bogeys, with a missed four-footer at 17 forcing her to birdie the last to join Soenderby at -16. Two big hits saw her on the par-5’s dancefloor in two, and she, and playing partner Lisa Pettersson of Sweden would each have eagle putts to relinquish Soenderby’s aspirations.
Both missed, and a three-way playoff beckoned. And on the way back to the 18th tee, disaster struck for Van Dam as the buggy in which she was being ferried travelled under a raised rope and her clubs got snagged, knocking the bag to the ground and snapping the shaft of her driver in the process.
With her power, she was still able to reach the green in two after taking 3-wood off the tee and hit an excellent approach into eight-feet, and with Pettersson’s adrenaline seeing her run over the back, the Dutchwoman was a strong favourite. But Soenderby had other ideas. Taking up exactly where she’d left off more than 90-minutes earlier, approaching the green last, she caressed a 6-iron under the branches of the magnificent 45-foot Cypress Tree that stands sentry before the 18th green, and the ball came to rest some 10 feet beyond the flag.
Pettersson, knowing she’d likely have to hole her chip, caught it heavy, leaving an absolutely must-make 20-footer that would slide by, and next it was the Dane who’s dead-weight left-to-right downhill put was on the perfect line and fell in the front edge and Van Dam, who now had to hole to extend, saw her’s agonisingly slide by.
It was a cruel end to the tournament for Van Dam who three-putted the 72nd here last year to miss out on a playoff by one, but she and her local caddy can take solace in the fact that it was a missed putt that was the decisive factor and not the loss of her driver.
Soenderby’s winning eagle meant that she’d covered the day’s 19 holes in an incredible 12-under, making her an extremely worthy champion and clearly somebody to watch.
“I can’t quite believe it actually,” an emotional Soenderby said. “If you had told me I would do that in the final round, I would have laughed I think. It is quite amazing.
“I believed I could climb up the leaderboard a little bit. My mum was like, “go out there and go low. I believe in you.” I thought maybe 6 under, 7 under but I didn’t expect 10….
“I didn’t expect to be in that playoff. We were heading up to the range 30 minutes before and I was like there is some birdie holes coming up and they will make birdies and then, yes, I put myself in position I guess and they also did.
“It is the three best shots of my life, so I will take those.”
Soenderby was full of sympathy for Van Dam after the unfortunate driver incident. “We drove next to her and saw that her bag fell off and her driver was snapped,” she said. “It was terrible, I didn’t know what to say, it was a super unlucky situation for Anne.”
Leona Maguire, who started the day one shot ahead of Soenderby, but eight shy of Van Dam, birdied three of her opening six holes and sparked hopes of a fairytale ending amongst the thronged galleries following, but a three-putt bogey at eight killed the momentum, and she’d cover the back nine in one-over to finish tied for 14th at -8.
Sara Byrne took the honours as leading amateur after a two-under round of 70 left her on -4 for the tournament. The Douglas native, who started on the 10th, put a sublime opening nine together with an eagle and two birdies to climb to -6, and despite back-to-back bogeys on one and two, took it home in level-par to cap off an extremely memorable week for the University of Miami student who is scheduled to fly back across the Atlantic at 7am on Monday morning.
“This whole week has been unbelievable,” Byrne said. “I never wanted to end. Even though my last nine holes was a little bit of a struggle compared to my front nine today, it’s one of those experiences that I just, I was just absolutely loving it.”
One back of Byrne was Beth Coulter who recovered from a double-bogey seven at the par-5 11th – her second – to post a one-under final round and she, like Byrne, will fly to the United States in the morning where she’d set to begin her second year at Arizona State University.
Kate Lanigan, another amateur who enjoyed an incredible week, birdied her final hole for a level-par 72 and a one-under total where she joined Olivia Mehaffey, and Elm Park teenager Emma Fleming who was the youngest of the Irish to make the cut, signed off with a one-over 73 for tied 66th.