ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Northern Ireland’s Michael Hoey resisted the challenge of illustrious compatriots Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell to win the Dunhill Links Championship by two shots Sunday, continuing his country’s recent success story in world golf.
Hoey, ranked No. 271, saw his three-shot overnight lead vanish within six holes of the final round but regrouped well, birdieing three of the last four holes to close with a 4-under 68. His 22-under total broke the tournament record, set by Lee Westwood eight years ago, by one shot.
The third-ranked McIlroy’s closing 65 gave him second place – two shots clear of McDowell (69) and Scotland’s George Murray (67), who finished tied for third.
A third career title earned Hoey a winner’s check of $800,000, but it was the way he held off the advances of his fellow Ulstermen – the U.S. Open champions present and past – that pleased him most.
“They are major champions … they have been my inspirations,” said Hoey, who has struggled to fulfill his potential after winning the British Amateur title in 2001.
“It’s taken me a long time to kick on. My belief has been high and low but I got my consistency back this week … Winning the Dunhill Links, it doesn’t get much better.”
Hoey led, or held a share of the lead, after every round of this week’s prestigious pro-am played over three of Scotland’s best courses – St. Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns.
“My short game’s been the best it’s ever been this week,” said Hoey, who shot 66s in his first three rounds.
Hoey became the latest Northern Irishman to capture a big title, with McIlroy, McDowell and current British Open champion Darren Clarke having won majors over the last 15 months. This was the first-ever Northern Irish 1-2-3 at a European Tour event.
McIlroy, seeking a fourth career win and first since the U.S. Open in June, started the day five shots adrift of Hoey but holing a wedge for an eagle at the par-4 No. 3 helped him eat into his countryman’s advantage as the morning rain finally relented.
After six holes, McIlroy, McDowell and Hoey were all level on 18 under under overcast skies and McIlroy pulled a shot clear after making birdies at Nos. 7, 9 and 11.
By that stage, he was closing in on the course record of 63 he set at the British Open last year. But the 22-year-old McIlroy failed to pick up a shot in his final seven holes and was reeled back in by Hoey, his old playing partner in Belfast and someone he looked up to as a budding amateur.
“It’s good to see all us boys up there but I’m obviously disappointed it wasn’t me that’s lifting the trophy,” said McIlroy, who looked at home this week on the links, 2 1/2 months after becoming disillusioned with that style of golf at a wet and wild British Open at Royal St. George’s.
“But considering that I was 3 over after 11 holes in this tournament, I’ve come back and played some really good golf. I’ve still got a few tournaments left this year to try to get a win or two.”
The pace of play was snail-like, with Hoey, Graeme McDowell and Louis Oosthuizen – playing in the final group – taking almost three hours to complete first nine holes.
“I struggled at the start but the pace of play actually helped me a bit,” Hoey said. “And Graeme was great to play with – he said ‘knock it in’ a few times on the greens.”
Like McIlroy, the 15th-ranked McDowell made only one birdie on the back nine, with a host of putts slipping by the cup, but still left St. Andrews happy after finding his form following a poor summer.
“Great things are ahead for me; I’m much happier with my game. But when a guy plays like Michael played down the stretch, you can’t have any complaints,” McDowell said. “No one lost the tournament today, Michael just played fantastic.”
Oosthuizen began the final round four shots off the lead but couldn’t recreate the glories of his British Open win at St. Andrews last year, a closing 69 leaving him tied for fifth on 17 under with England’s Tommy Fleetwood and Scotland’s Marc Warren.
Three-time major winner Padraig Harrington (69) was a shot back, a stroke clear of top-ranked Luke Donald (70) and seven others.
Second-ranked Lee Westwood shot 73 and was 11 strokes behind Hoey on 10 under.