Donaldson claims his first tour victory after closing 66
GOLF: THE INTERLOPER was embraced as one of their own, which was typical of how the galleries at this Irish Open – a first in 59 years to be staged in Northern Ireland – achieved a special status and raised the bar for just about every other tournament on the European Tour.
Jamie Donaldson, a Welshman, could just thank his lucky stars that an overdue first win on tour was part of the history.
On a day when the grey clouds and persistent rain finally relented, to allow – for the most part – blue skies and nothing more than a gentle breeze, the scoring was hot.
Too hot, in fact, for Pádraig Harrington, a three-time Major champion seeking to win a second Irish Open title in a town which proudly proclaims itself to be the ‘Golfing Major capital of the world’.
This time, Harrington’s efforts – his putter a wee bit on the cold side – came up short. But it wasn’t for the want of trying; and, as he pointed out afterwards, it would have needed something special, in the region of a closing 64, if he were to close the deal.
Instead, the Dubliner finished with a 70, for 276, that was six shots adrift of the impressive Donaldson.
As he turned on the 18th green, acknowledging the loud applause of those gathered on sand hills and in grandstands who were appreciative of his efforts, Harrington also took a long, lingering look at the giant leaderboard which highlighted how winner and losers plotted their ways around the magnificent links on a pet day.
It showed a course record equalling 65, from Sweden’s Mikael Lundberg who covered the front nine in a mere 29 strokes. It showed a plethora of birdies.
And it showed that Donaldson – in his 255th event on the European Tour – had finally discovered the winning habit.
“It’s taken a while,” conceded Donaldson, the father of a three-month-old son who seems to have taken the new arrival as a signal to play the best golf of his career.
“It’s taken me a lot longer than I thought.”
Patience, as every golfer knows, is a virtue. And all those years of trying finally paid off for Donaldson, who started the final round with the lead and took an iron grip on the destination of the title when his playing partner Anthony Wall hit a tee-shot out of bounds on the second hole and ran up a triple bogey eight.
Donaldson’s response was to birdie three successive holes from the second. Then, on the homeward run, with a maiden title in sight, he reeled off five birdies on that final stretch.
As wins went, it was comfortable; and probably made him wonder why it had taken so long to achieve.
Intriguingly, Donaldson had shown good form when shooting a 62 in the British Open International Qualifying at Sunningdale last Monday.