ST. ANDREWS, Scotland (AP) — Northern Ireland’s Michael Hoey edged countrymen Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell to win the Dunhill Links Championship by two shots on Sunday, continuing his country’s recent success in world golf.
Hoey, ranked No. 271, lost his three-shot overnight lead early in the final round but regrouped well, birdying three of the last four holes for a 4-under 68. His 22-under total broke the tournament record, set by Lee Westwood eight years ago, by one shot.
McIlroy’s closing 65 gave him second place – two shots clear of McDowell (69) and Scotland’s George Murray (67), who finished tied for third.
Hoey’s third career title was worth $800,000. But it was the way he held off McIlroy and McDowell – the last two U.S. Open champions – that pleased him most.
“They are major champions … they have been my inspirations,” said Hoey, who has struggled to fulfill his potential after winning the British Amateur title in 2001.
“It’s taken me a long time to kick on. My belief has been high and low but I got my consistency back this week. … Winning the Dunhill Links, it doesn’t get much better.”
Hoey led or held a share of the lead after every round of this week’s prestigious pro-am played over three of Scotland’s best courses – St. Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns.
“My short game’s been the best it’s ever been this week,” said Hoey, who had a 66 in each of the first three rounds.
This was the first-ever Northern Irish 1-2-3 at a European Tour event, just adding to the country’s strong run in the sport. McIlroy, McDowell and current British Open champion Darren Clarke each have won a major in the last 15 months.
McIlroy, seeking a fourth career win and first since the U.S. Open in June, began the day five shots back of Hoey. But he holed a wedge for an eagle at the par-4 No. 3, sparking a charge to the top.
After six holes, McIlroy, McDowell and Hoey were tied at 18 under overcast skies, and McIlroy pulled a shot clear after making birdies at Nos. 7, 9 and 11.
By that stage, he was closing in on the course record of 63 he set at the British Open last year. But the 22-year-old McIlroy failed to pick up a shot in his final seven holes and was run down by Hoey, his old playing partner in Belfast and someone he looked up to as a budding amateur.
“It’s good to see all us boys up there but I’m obviously disappointed it wasn’t me that’s lifting the trophy,” McIlroy said.
“But considering that I was 3 over after 11 holes in this tournament, I’ve come back and played some really good golf. I’ve still got a few tournaments left this year to try to get a win or two.”
Like McIlroy, the 15th-ranked McDowell only made one birdie on the back nine, with a host of putts slipping by the cup, but still left St. Andrews happy after finding his form following a poor summer.
“Great things are ahead for me. I’m much happier with my game,” McDowell said. “But when a guy plays like Michael played down the stretch, you can’t have any complaints. No one lost the tournament today, Michael just played fantastic.”