Willett stakes claim in Irish Open

Willett stakes claim in Irish Open

England’s Danny Willett set a testing target as the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open turned into a war of attrition at a windswept Royal County Down on Sunday.

Only five players were under par as the leaders reached the turn, thanks to winds gusting up to 40mph, with Willett safely in the clubhouse on level par after a closing 68.

Willett began the final round 10 shots off the lead but carded four bogeys and five birdies before chipping in for an eagle on the 18th to boost his chances of a third European Tour title.

Denmark’s Soren Kjeldsen and Spain’s Rafael Cabrera-Bello shared the lead on three under par, Kjeldsen having seen his two-shot overnight lead wiped out on the opening hole after he dropped a shot and playing partner Max Kieffer made birdie.

Kjeldsen also bogeyed the second but as the wind sent scores soaring, a run of five pars was enough to leave him two ahead again before a bad chip on the eighth led to a double bogey.

English pair Eddie Pepperell and Tyrrell Hatton and Kieffer were a shot off the lead on two under, Pepperell having just four holes to play.

Pepperell crucially saved par on the 17th after finding a fairway bunker off the tee, but twice tangled with heavy rough on the 18th and had to settle for a par five.

That was still good enough for a remarkable bogey-free 69 in the circumstances, setting a new clubhouse target of two under par.

However, that was two behind Kjeldsen after the Dane two-putted the par-five 12th for his first birdie of the day, with the wind easing somewhat after a heavy rain shower passed through.

With Cabrera-Bello dropping a shot on the 15th, Kjeldsen had a chance to restore his overnight two-shot lead, but three-putted the 14th to drop back to three under.

That left the 40-year-old just one ahead of Cabrera-Bello, Pepperell and Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger, who had recovered from a bogey on the 15th by holing a long putt from over the 16th green.

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