McGinley carries favourite's tag well

 

Even in a game that is played for pay, there are times when success cannot be measured in cash. Paul McGinley experienced such a situation at Baltray yesterday, when he completed a record 22-under-par aggregate of 270 for a four-stroke victory and top prize of £16,600 in the Smurfit Irish Professional Championship.

Much of the pressure came from knowing that as favourite for the title, he was expected to deliver, especially when carrying a three-stroke lead into the final round. But there was also the formidable presence of playing partner Eamonn Darcy, who pushed him relentlessly from a second-round 64 on Friday.

"I'm thrilled to have won it this way," said the 33-year-old Dubliner after a final round of 69 meant he had broken 70 on each of the four days. "But it will be another few months before we know just how important this will prove to be. Maybe by then I will have achieved my target of making the top 50 in the world rankings."["]

McGinley was thinking, no doubt, of the aftermath to his first triumph in this championship at Fota Island in 1997, after which he went on to win the Oki Pro-Am in Madrid and then partnered Padraig Harrington to a World Cup triumph at Kiawah Island. "I can build on this," he said. "["]My whole game was really solid throughout."

A feature of his play was superb driving, which helped him cover the five par fives in a total of 15 under par compared with eight under from Darcy. He attributed this to a new, prototype driver of which his attachment company, Taylor Made, has produced only six so far. "I'm hitting it about 280 yards, which could also have to do with my gym work over the last two years," he said.

For his part, the 48-year-old Darcy couldn't feel too discouraged after an 18-under-par aggregate which was well up to European Tour winning standards. "The soft greens made the course a bit easier than normal, but I'm very pleased with the way I played," he said afterwards. "Paul never let me in: I couldn't get to him today after the first two holes."

Setting off three strokes adrift, largely because of a bogey to McGinley's birdie on the 18th hole on Saturday, Darcy knew he needed a hot start yesterday. But after lipping out with birdie putts at the first and second, he started par, par, as against par, eagle from his rival. "That was the killer blow," said Darcy.

McGinley's eagle was the product of a five-iron second shot of 200 yards, down wind to within a foot of the flag. And he concentrated on playing the course, so as to ensure there was no let up in his concentration. The result was four birdies which were only partially offset by a three-putt bogey at the third and another dropped shot at the short 17th.

Meanwhile, Knockbracken's Geoff Loughrey bagged an extremely rare bird at the 531-year sixth, where a four iron second shot ended in the cup for an albatross two. And Francis Howley equalled the best home journey of the week with a five-under-par 31 which lifted him into a share of third place with Gary Murphy.

Though McGinley didn't threaten the championship record aggregate of 266, set by Philip Walton at The Castle in 1989, it was seven strokes inside the East of Ireland Championship record of 277, set by Ken Kearney last year.