Monty benefits from rub of the green

 

On a day when the heavens opened in Co Kildare, all Colin Montgomerie's prayers were answered as he became the new Smurfit Kappa European Open champion for the first time while Greame McDowell could be forgiven for thinking he'd just been kicked in the teeth.

To say the eight-time European Tour Order of Merit winner rode his luck coming down the stretch was an understatement, for he more than flirted with water on the two closing par threes. On the 17th  his effort came up short but somehow his ball defied gravity to stay dry. Credit to Monty, for he took advantage by pitching to two feet and holing for par.

The makeshift 18th was almost a carbon copy as he leaked his tee shot right and the ball rested behind the red hazard line. Still, he was able to get his lob wedge to the ball - without grounding it as he was technically in a hazard - and pitched up to five feet before courageously holing-out for a closing 65 to set the clubhouse target of 11-under par 269 which wouldn't be beaten.

On the resumption of play for a second time - due to thunder and lightning - only the tenacious Swede Niclas Fasth could catch Monty. Set up for a grandstand finish, and the possibility of the play-off, Fasth returned to the 18th tee needing birdie at the 184-yard par three.

The 35-year-old made a good fist of it by landing within 15-feet of the hole. A solid stroke later and the ball was on its way but would slide by on the right side. The title was Montgomerie's and Fasth's  67, for a 10-under total, meant he had to settle for outright second.

"I must admit, the last two holes I got very fortunate," beamed Montgomerie after his win. "All credit to Niclas (Fasth) for he made two great efforts at 17 and 18 but just didn't hole the putts."

"The only time I've had to wait around like this (to see if he'd won) was at the 1992 US Open. But it's always good to get the score in the bag. At the 18th I had an awful lie on the down slope, grass against me but it came out remarkably well with my 64 degree wedge. Then I still had to hole a tricky five-footer.

"But this win means a hell of a lot to me, especially after such a dry spell and people writing me off. Critics said I couldn't putt anymore and that I'd finish well but never win. This week I went back to the belly putter and it worked. I'll enjoy the next two weeks and go forward with renewed confidence."

In lifting the €593,580 winner's cheque, Monty rolled back the years to capture the 31st European Tour victory of his illustrious career and his first since winning the Hong Kong Open 18 months ago. He also spoke of his satisfaction at surpassing Nick Faldo's win tally in Europe.

For much of the afternoon the main protagonists jockeyed for position and as a result the leaderboard took on a different complexion every few minutes. But when play resumed after the first delay Monty made sure he was in the right place to state his case.

The first stoppage couldn't have happened at a worse time for Graeme McDowell who had just reached the turn in level par before reeling-off three birdies on the trot to get to nine-under - and two behind Fasth - when the klaxon sounded.

"The delay was absolutely the worst possible timing," said McDowell who completed his round with seconds to spare before another stoppage. "I'd just ripped my drive down the middle of 13 off the back of three birdies and feeling great, back in the tournament, then bang we've got to stop."

McDowell wasn't overly enamored by the lack of preparation time and quick turnaround of the suspension.  "Don't understand it really. I didn't have time to do anything other than a quick stretch, then straight onto the bus and back into the teeth of a golf tournament. No putts or anything."

Never mind losing the momentum, he came out to face a daunting 175-yard approach to a really tight pin. He hit a loose six-iron then three-putted for bogey. Still, he rallied to make a birdie at 14 before a pattern emerged with a problematic six-iron.

"Since the 18th yesterday I've hit five of the worst six-irons in my life in the last two days," offered a dejected McDowell, who also used it at the 13th, blocked it at the 16th and again at the 18th to find water.

"Can't actually explain the six-iron thing, five complete anomalies. Hate to blame my equipment but something very unusual was happening.  It will be going straight to the Callaway truck on Wednesday (at Loch Lomond) and
I'm now hoping there's something wrong with it, if only for piece of mind," added the Portrush pro who dropped four shots in the last three holes for a 71 to finish tied 18th on five-under.

Never mind the financial cost McDowell's late slide will not help his effort to get back into the world's top 100 and earn a place in next month's USPGA Championship.

"Looking back I can't blame anyone, the whole thing was just very bad timing for me. I'm gutted I have to say, absolutely gutted," he added.

On a more positive note, one time leader Pelle Edberg proved more resilient than first expected by signing for a final round 66. That left the colourful Swede in a tie for third on nine-under. He was joined by England's Anthony Wall (71), France's Gregory Havret (68) and Sweden's Peter Hanson (68).

By his own high standards Padraig Harrgington had a lacklustre week to finish on level par (tied 51st) after a closing 72.With the Open at Carnoustie is just around the corner, greater priority will be to ensure there are no further problems with his knee injury..

"I'm looking forward to playing in the Irish (PGA) Championship at the European next week. The knee is fine but as a precaution my physio will keep a close eye on it and I will probably have it strapped up at the European Club," said Harrington.

David Higgins, who was here on a sponsor's invite, matched Harrington's closing 72 to finish on one-over 281 and in a tie for 51st. The Waterville pro will still pick up decent cheque for his efforts but at tied 56th it won't be as considerable as he would have liked.

Despite a closing 68 US Open champion Angel Cabrera also found himself at the wrong end of the leaderboard on two-over.

The timing simply couldn't have been worse for McDowell but his day will come again just like the 44-year-old Monty had his today.