McIlroy distracted as Noren lands maiden win

 

Golf:Rory McIlroy was on course to shoot his lowest ever round on the European Tour but he faltered on the final hole and apportioned blame on an unwitting photographer. In the end it mattered little for he was never going to catch Alexander Noren who was crowned the European Masters champion in the Swiss Alps.

After a couple of frustrating middle rounds (71, 70), McIlroy dialed into his A-game on the final day at the Crans-sur-Sierre venue. An eagle three at the opening hole was followed by four birdies and two dropped shots as he reached the turn in four-under 32.

At nine-under the Holywood golfer had given himself an outside chance of winning and going one better than last year when he missed an 18 inch putt to lose the play-off to France’s Jean Francois Lucquin.

McIlroy reeled off four further birdies in five holes from the 13th, including a momentum boosting pitch-in at the 17th to be eight-under for his round. He was eyeing a birdie at the last for a round of 62 to set the clubhouse target of 13-under. However the fairytale finish didn’t materialise.

“He (the photographer) was annoying me before I hit the shot and then he clicked a bit early,” said McIlroy, who pushed his three-wood off the tee, eventually made bogey, and had to settle for a closing 64.

“It’s been happening all week. When you come to places like this some of the photographers don’t know golf.

“I thought if I could get another birdie I might have half a chance of winning. But it wasn’t to be,” added McIlroy, who finished tied seventh on 12-under after starting the day tied 34th.

Had McIlroy won he would have moved from third to first in the Race to Dubai with leader Martin Kaymer injured and likely to be out for another two weeks, while second-placed Paul Casey is also recovering from injury.

He could also have made a significant move on the pair in next week's Mercedes Masters in Cologne but has instead opted to play in the non-European Tour Korean Open next week.

"I still have the Dunhill Links, Portugal, Matchplay, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Dubai, so there will be plenty of chances for me," added McIlroy, who at least closed the gap on Casey to the tune of €48,700.

At the business end Noren held off a determined challenge from former winner Bradley Dredge to claim his maiden title and the €333,330 winner’s cheque.

A closing five-under 66, for a 20-under 264 total, left the Swede two strokes ahead of Dredge (65) who won the title in 2006.

The 27-year-old held a two-shot overnight lead but had been reeled in by Dredge with nine holes to play after the Welshman eagled the ninth, made five birdies in all and just one dropped shot at the 12th.

Coming down the stretch there was little to choose between the two main protagonists until Noren’s fate was sealed when he holed his bunker shot for eagle at the 15th then closed out the win with three pars.

"I've got to stay there now," said Noren in reference to his early position at the top of the European Ryder Cup race after the first counting event. "I always thought about playing one day (in the Ryder Cup) but I didn't know a win would come so soon."

"I felt so good about my game but I knew the guys were going to post low rounds. Bradley's short game was unbelievable. But when he eagled the ninth and then chipped in on the 11th it was good for my round as well because it made me more determined. I was so happy with the 15th, though."

Paul McGinley’s pursuit of a fourth Ryder Cup appearance started well as he carded a level par 71 to end the week tied 17th on nine-under to earn €26,400.

Graeme McDowell closed with a 69 to finish six-under, while Darren Clarke lost further ground after a 72 left him one-under.

Gareth Maybin couldn't make up any ground and his level par 71 left the Ballyclare pro one-over.