Denmark’s Soren Kjeldsen won the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open in dramatic circumstances after looking to have let a fourth European Tour victory slip from his grasp.
Kjeldsen took a two-shot lead into the final round and was one ahead with two holes remaining despite being four over par for the day as the players battled heavy showers and winds gusting up to 40mph at Royal County Down.
A three-putt bogey on the 17th left Kjeldsen needing to birdie the last to win, but after chipping from one side of the green off the other, he did well to get up and down for par and a closing 76 to join England’s Eddie Pepperell and Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger in a play-off.
The players returned to the par-five 18th for sudden death and, after finding the green in two and seeing his opponents fail to make birdie, Kjeldsen two-putted from 25 feet, although his birdie attempt did a full circuit of the hole before dropping.
Sheffield’s Danny Willett closed the gap on world No 1 and Race to Dubai leader Rory McIlroy by tieing for sixth place on level par 284, which was worth €81,250 and a similar number of points in the R2D standings.
Matthew Fitzpatrick, also from Sheffield, was just one shot behind Willett and a share of eighth spot earned the most handsome reward of his fledgling career, a cheque for €59,250 – more than double the sum he won for tieing fifth in the South African Open in January.
Harrogate’s John Parry completed an impressive week for Yorkshire players, earning €26,750 after placing joint 21st on five over par.
Winner Kjeldsen said: “Three weeks ago I was 112th in the Order of Merit and my game was not in good shape. With turning 40 (a fortnight ago) you wonder was that it? Now I am standing here and it’s pretty remarkable.”
Kjeldsen, whose previous win came in the 2009 Open de Andalucia, admitted he was feeling the pressure after his two-shot overnight lead disappeared on the first hole, which he bogeyed and playing partner Max Kieffer birdied.
The 40-year-old also bogeyed the second but with the tough conditions sending scores soaring, a run of five pars was enough to put Kjeldsen back in front before a double bogey on the eighth.
“The last breath I took was on about the 14th,” added Kjeldsen, who reclaimed the lead with his only birdie of the day on the 12th. “I have never been as nervous as this in the other tournaments I have won.
“I had decided not to look at leaderboards but once I started dropping shots I started looking because it gave me a little pleasure that I wasn’t the only one struggling because it was such a brutal day.”
Kjeldsen also claimed one of the three places available in the Open Championship to players finishing in the top 10 who were not already exempt, with Pepperell and Tyrrell Hatton taking the others.
With winds gusting up to 40mph, Willett made it safely into the clubhouse on level par after a closing 68 following rounds of 69 76 and 71.
He had begun the final round 10 shots off the lead, but carded four bogeys and five birdies before chipping in for an eagle on the 18th, meaning he finished the weekend as he had started it having eagled the 539-yard par-5 first on Saturday.
Fitzpatrick’s daily totals through the week were a model of consistency as he carded rounds of 71 72 70 and 72.
However, that disguises a turbulent outward nine of 34 on Saturday which included four birdies, only three pars and was marred by a double bogey at the ninth.
A more sedate par inward nine, in which he collected one birdie and one bogey, led to a 70 and put him in good shape for the final day.
He did not waste the platform he had built, battling back after reaching the turn in two over for the day by coming home in one-under 35 for an excellent 72 in tough conditions. This included birdieing the 12th hole for the third time in the week.
Parry fought back on Saturday with three birdies on the back nine to complete a 72, but his final round included four bogeys and no gains against the card, although he did close with eight consecutive pars in difficult conditions.