Nothing normal on final day of Irish Open as Vincent Norrman rises just as big names fall

Rory McIlroy looked set for another coronation at The K Club but the river Liffey had other ideas

Vincent Norrman of Sweden celebrates with the trophy after winning the Horizon Irish Open at The K Club. Photograph: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

The weather gods didn’t know what to do with the day, with thunder and lightning viciously intruding on the sunshine.

In truth, it only mirrored the goings on in this 68th Horizon Irish Open, where nothing was ever straightforward or ordained as any number of players – at numerous points – shared the lead, only for Sweden’s Vincent Norrman to break free and lay claim to the great prize.

Norrman’s was an unlikely charge to victory. The Swede had started the final round seven strokes behind 54-hole leader Hurly Long but it wasn’t only the scale of the margin, it was those players who lay in his way. Name them. Rory McIlroy. Billy Horschel. Shane Lowry. Min Woo Lee.

Yet, Norrman it was who played the best golf and – cool and collected – kept his head while it seemed others, primarily behind him, were losing theirs.


A final-round 65 – admirably bogey-free, and with a critical tournament-winning haul of six birdies in eight holes from the seventh to the 14th – saw Norrman finish on 14-under-par 274, one shot clear of Long who birdied the 18th to separate himself from the quartet, among them Lowry, who shared third place.

This was a final round which had twists and turns and much more. And, unfortunately for McIlroy, his quest to repeat his win of 2016 was undone by uncharacteristic shot-making that increased the workload of the frogmen who are charged with recovering golf balls from the lakes and from the river Liffey.

McIlroy had started the final round in the final group. He was in solo third, two shots behind Long and one adrift of Jordan Smith. By the time he left the third green, McIlroy – who birdied the first hole – had shown his intent. He was in a four-way share of the lead (along with Long, Grant Forrest and Lee) and, then, play was halted as a weather front moved within 10 kilometres of Straffan.

It didn’t take long for the thunder and lightning to arrive, and play only resumed an hour and a half later.

McIlroy was unaffected, marking his return to the course with a birdie on the par-five fourth hole – moving to 13 under – and there seemed only one outcome. McIlroy would do what McIlroy does and move beyond the reach of everyone. It didn’t take long for that script to be ripped up, though.

A dejected Rory McIlroy dejected after finishing his round. Photograph: Ben Brady/Inpho

On the par-four seventh – the hole known as Michael’s Favourite – McIlroy hit five-wood off the tee and had seven-iron in his hands for the approach over water. It never made it. His ball hit rocks and found a watery grave and, before you knew it, he was carding a double-bogey six and back to 11 under. A bogey on the 11th was followed by a birdie on the 13th and the world number two was still very much in the game.

Except, McIlroy’s aspirations perished on the 16th, the hole which had provided the catalyst for his late charge to victory in 2016. It merited a plaque in the fairway.

This time, though, his five-wood approach veered into the river; and, then, after taking a penalty drop, he cleared the island to find a part of the river only anglers know. It all added up to a snowman – an eight – that wrecked his card as McIlroy finished with a 74 for 279 in tied-16th place.

“In the middle of the fairway on 13 under par for the tournament, if someone had told me you just need two more birdies on the way in and you’d win, I obviously would have taken that. Just a couple of loose swings. Seven and 16 this week [were] my bogey holes. I’ve hit six balls in the water on those two holes, that’s basically what did me in,” claimed McIlroy.

McIlroy’s calamity on the 16th caused his demise and meant others were then cast as prime chasers to Norrman, who had retreated to the practice range to wait. But Ryan Fox – the man most likely – finished poorly, bogeying the 17th and only parring the par-five 18th, while Long required an eagle on the 18th to force a playoff and managed a birdie which gave him solo second.

So it was that Norrman was summoned from the range and straight to the 18th green, as the champion. The 25-year-old Swede – another graduate of the American collegiate system – adding a second win to the Barbasol Championship (a co-sanctioned event on the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour) he had won in July.

Before the thunder and lightning stoppage, Norrman had birdied the seventh and ninth to turn in 33 but that hardly hinted at what would unfold.

“I went back into the dining and had a coffee and kind of found something on the range I think [before the resumption]. I kind of flushed it and off we went,” said Norrman, who claimed almost €1 million for his victory and moved to seventh on the Race to Dubai order of merit.

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times