New life begins at 40 for relieved Soren Kjeldsen

Soren Kjeldsen overcame a nervy sudden-death play-off and some insecurity about his future on the European Tour to win the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open. 

New life begins at 40 for relieved Soren Kjeldsen

The Dane, who had turned 40 two weeks prior to his first victory in six years, had reached the milestone age wondering if he would ever add to his haul of three tournament wins in 17 years on Tour.

The last four days in Ireland, replete with wind and rain, have changed all that, with Kjeldsen completing victory on the 73rd hole having been part of a six-way tie for the halfway lead on Friday night. Saturday saw him open up a two-shot advantage at 54 holes, that could have been much better but for a bogey-bogey finish.

There was certainly an element of deja vu as he three-putted the 17th in the final round for bogey and then missed the green at 18. His next shot was a chip that crossed to the other side of the putting surface but Kjeldsen managed to save par to force a play-off with England’s Eddie Pepperell and Bernd Wiesberger of Austria with the trio tied at two under par — the highest winning score on the European Tour this season.

Sudden death took them back to the 18th tee from where Kjeldsen took the shortest route to the green. He was on in two and when Pepperell failed to hole out with his chip and Wiesberger missed from 20 feet, the Dane had a three footer for birdie and victory. Even that was a nervy affair, the ball rattling around the cup and initially refusing to drop but when it did, the cheers from the sell-out crowd told Kjeldsen all he needed to know — he was back in the winner’s enclosure.

“I think the last breath I took was on the 14th,” a relieved Kjeldsen said. “I was very nervous. It was brutal.

“Three weeks ago I was 112th in the Order of Merit, my game was not in good shape. With turning 40, you wonder was that it? Now I’m standing here and it’s pretty remarkable, really.”

Tournament host Rory McIlroy had done so much to make this Irish Open a success, bringing on board Dubai Duty Free as title sponsors and persuading the likes of Sergio Garcia, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Rickie Fowler to break from their usual schedules and participate. What he did not manage was to make the halfway cut but the world No1. was on the 18th green for the trophy presentation to declare this year’s tournament a success.

“I am very proud to be associated with what has been an incredible event and to bring this tournament to Northern Ireland,” McIlroy said. “I want to thank the amount of people who came not just to support the event, but did a lot of great things for the Foundation as well. And obviously I want to congratulate Soren, who was a very worthy winner.”

Spain’s Rafael Cabrera-Bello had shared second place overnight with Max Kieffer of Germany and had vied with Kjeldsen at the top of the leaderboard for most of the day. But he was left to rue a 72nd hole bogey after driving into left rough on the par-five 18th. He finished tied for fourth with England’s Tyrrell Hatton who birdied the 17th for a 74 to also reach one under par.

It meant all but five golfers finished under par during a week when Royal County Down and the weather provided the toughest of links tests.

Danny Willett, whose tie for sixth will marginally close the gap in the Race To Dubai standings between himself and leader Rory McIlroy, showed the way on the final day on the links he and the world No1. had shared as 2007 Walker Cup team-mates.

The Englishman shot the round of the day, a three-under-par 68, finishing in style to reach level par for the week with an eagle at the last.

European Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke finished as the leading home player, albeit at six over par following an impressive level-par 71 that betrayed the former Open champion’s poor putting form.

“Tough, hard, really really hard out there,” Clarke said. “I’m not far away but my speed is improving. It has been poor on the greens, you can see how frustrated I was (on Saturday), you can’t afford to waste shots and that’s what I’m doing.

“There’s a lot of really good golf in there, ball striking has been as good as it has ever been and I’m just not turning that into scores yet. I’ve a lot of work to do on my putting. Practice a little bit and hopefully find a little rhythm and get a better roll for the US Open.” Graeme McDowell was next best placed of the Irish, at seven over following a 75 while putting also proved to be the downfall of Pádraig Harrington, the first round co-leader, who fell away over the weekend with a 78 on Saturday. The three-time major winner went two strokes better yesterday with a five-over 76 to finish 10 over par but it was definitely a case of the one that got away.

“It’s a disappointing finish,” 2007 Irish Open champion Harrington said. “I was going quite nicely, finding it easy through 27 holes. A little disappointing after that. Just missed too many short putts and you need to hole those short putts in those conditions.

“Even then, when you’re missing a few of them, it’s hard to hole the 20-footers because you’re worried about running it three feet by. Yeah, I lost my momentum out there and that’s a pity but short game just wasn’t up to it this week.”

Harrington finished level with another former champion, 2009 winner Shane Lowry, who closed with a 77, with Royal County Down’s Simon Thornton four shots further back.

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