ROSS FISHER, a 29-year-old from the horseracing haven of Ascot, proved at Killarney yesterday that nice guys do come first.
Fisher is regarded as a gentleman of the golfing world and though he deprived local hero Pádraig Harrington of the coveted title and the €500,000 first prize in the 3 Irish Open, the crowd of 25,673 took him to their hearts and, as he put it: "made me feel at home".
Fisher captured his fourth European Tour title closing with an admirable 65 for an 18-under-par aggregate of 266, two ahead of Harrington who did everything in his powers to bridge the three-shot overnight gap.
The Dubliner picked up €333,330 to move to ninth in the European Ryder Cup points list and considerably strengthen his grip on a place at Celtic Manor in October.
Yesterday’s attendance brought the total for the four days to 81,783 and with it calls to bring the championship back to Killarney next year.
Fisher first made the breakthrough in the KLM Open in 2007, ran away with the European Open at the London Club a year later by seven shots and went on to defeat American Anthony Kim in the final of the Volvo Match Play Championship in the south of Spain last October.
He acquired the services of the vastly experienced Phil Morbey as caddie three weeks ago and warmly praised the man nicknamed "Wobbly" due to an unusual style of walking. Fittingly, the bagman celebrated his 46th birthday yesterday.
"To win another tournament feels great but to win a national Open means a great deal," said Fisher.
"I’ve come close in Ireland a couple of times previously and to get it done in front of record crowds and to beat Paddy obviously fighting all the way means I’ll treasure this a long time."
He admitted: "It has been a premier event for me for a long time. Beside Majors, WGCs and stuff like that, I look at tournaments like Ireland, Loch Lomond and Paris as big, big tournaments. I was very fortunate that this week fitted nicely into the schedule."
He heaped praise on both the fans, and the host venue.
"The hospitality this week and every time I’ve ever been to Ireland has been outstanding. This week has been no exception. The fans were tremendous. They are going to be pulling for Paddy but walking onto tees, walking up fairways, I was applauded. And that was the same for all 18 holes.
"I know many people were disappointed that Paddy didn’t win but hopefully they won’t be too disappointed with the champion this year."
And he backed a return to the Kingdom next year: "Killarney was a great location. I know there’s nothing set in stone for coming back next year but after winning here, I really hope it does for many more years."
Fisher is now in the automatic top nine for the Ryder Cup and will be another big addition to Colin Montgomerie’s team in October. He has the mental strength to cope with pressure and that composure was vital as Harrington, Robert Green, Gonzalo Fernandez Castano and Francisco Molinari challenged at various points.
Harrington and Australian left-hander Green, who displayed a silken putting touch as he birdied the first three holes, signalled their intent from the start. But Fisher never relented, highlighting his four under par run to the turn with an eagle three at the seventh.
A birdie two at the 10th set him three clear of the chasing pack.
Harrington was resolute. He was relatively quiet over the early holes of the homeward journey before a 15-footer at the 15th got him going again and he was back on level terms when rattling home an 18-footer for eagle at the 16th.
But Fisher, two holes behind, opened up a two-stroke gap with a short birdie putt on 15 and the mandatory four at the reachable par five 16th.
He made things a little nervy by rushing his putt on the 17th five feet past but he knocked in the return. That left him with the luxury of a two stroke gap playing the 18th which he safely negotiated in a par four for a decisive and well merited victory. Watching it all was Fisher’s manager, Conor Ridge of Horizon Sports, who denied feeling any nerves whatsoever. "I left all that behind when G-Mac (Graeme McDowell) won the US Open at Pebble Beach."
These are heady days for Ridge, one Irishman who certainly finished in the winner’s enclosure in Kerry last night.