Christy O’Connor Junior, Woodbrook, 1975.
The popular Galway native who prematurely passed away earlier this year enjoyed two pieces of great good fortune before launching his challenge for the revived Carroll’s Irish Open at Woodbrook.
Firstly, his celebrated uncle, Christy Senior, who died on Saturday, presented him with a driver which boasted a graphite shaft that was cutting edge technology at the time. Secondly, the draw paired him with JC Snead, a nephew of the celebrated “Slamming Sam” Snead. They hit it off perfectly. Christy felt at ease in Snead’s company – to the extent he opened with rounds of 66 and 70 to finish just one behind another good buddy, Australian Ian Stanley, at the halfway stage. The par at Woodbrook at the time was 74 and the cut came at three under with Open champion Bob Charles one of those to miss out and Tom Watson well off the pace. Christy always believed that Stanley’s drive to the treacherous 18th in the third round was the turning point.
The Aussie carved his ball out of bounds onto the railway line running the length of the fairway on the right. That handed a three-shot lead for O’Connor, who shot a 69. In the end, he had just one shot to spare over the Scot, Harry Bannerman, enough to spark off some major celebrations among the 10,000 strong galleries.
Christy later enthused: “I had an absolute ball, it was one of the best parties I ever experienced.”
Seve Ballesteros, Royal Dublin, 1985.
Leaving aside most Americans who (correctly) believed the Spaniard had no time for them, it is fair to say everyone in golf loved Severiano Ballesteros, the swashbuckling Spaniard. In fact, you would have to search long and hard to find anyone in Ireland who didn’t adore the man. It so happened the feeling was mutual and Seve came here when he didn’t need to and only missed the Irish Open when he had no alternative. He captured his first Irish Open in 1983 and took special pleasure about his second two years later.
Bernhard Langer, a keen rival at the time, set the championship alight on the final day with a spectacular course record 63 to set the clubhouse lead for the best part of two hours but Ballesteros birdied three of the last four to draw level to set up a “sudden death” play-off between two of golf’s greatest players. They parred the first play-off hole, the 17th, before tackling the treacherous 18th, known as the “Garden”, with its out of bounds hard and close on the right. Seve sealed victory with an outrageous 35-foot putt for birdie to the delight of the 20,000 strong crowd.
And Seve? He punched the air time and time again, graphically demonstrating just how much winning the Irish Open - and beating Bernhard Langer – meant to him!
Ian Woosnam, Portmarnock, 1989.
If the Ballesteros-Langer head-to-head enthralled the fans in ’85, the excitement levels four years later were higher again when it came to another Portmarnock play-off involving Philip Walton, who had grown up just down the road in Malahide, and Welshman, Ian Woosnam, who at the time was headed for Masters glory and his place as the world’s number one golfer. Woosnam captured the Irish title by seven shots in 1988 but with Walton at the top of his game and supported by a crowd of more than 20,000, his defence of the title went down to the wire. Woosie pulled it off with a birdie 3 on the first tie hole (Portmarnock’s 18th) and appreciated that he had spoiled the party: “Of course, the crowds were rooting for the home player. It would be the same for me in Wales. I felt for every 10 people who clapped me, there were 10,000 behind Philip. Everyone wanted an Irish winner and who could blame them? My only fear was I would be trampled upon in the excitement of it all.”
Colin Montgomerie, Fota Island, 2001.
The quality of the golf produced by the winner, Colin Montgomerie, and his closest pursuers, Ireland’s Darren Clarke and Pádraig Harrington, was the perfect end to a sensational tournament played out in glorious sunshine in 2001. The enigmatic Scot was irrepressible and the Irish pair couldn’t reel him in as he marched to victory with an 18 under par total of 266. Monty was into his stride from the start, shooting an eight under par 63 on Thursday. A 69 on Friday followed by 68 on Saturday was pretty ordinary stuff but Monty still led the two Irishmen by seven shots with 18 to play. He was never going to be caught but by then also had a personal ambition to realise — to lead from start to finish for the first time in any of his many wins worldwide. As Clarke and Harrington rattled in putt after putt, the crowd cheered and cheered but Montgomerie hardly noticed. He was unfazed as they signed for seven under par rounds of 64 while he cruised around himself in 66. The championship was his by five strokes. “That was one of the most important wins of my career,” Monty enthused.
Richard Finch, Adare Manor Golf Resort, 2008.
Check out English golfer Richard Finch on YouTube and you will see the shot he played from the banks of the River Maigue at the final hole of the 2008 Irish Open at Adare Manor Resort. Of course, it’s great viewing to see him take a violent swing and send his half-submerged ball on its way before losing his balance and fall into the water. What you don’t see is where his ball came to rest – in the heart of the green from where he two-putted to claim his first and only European Tour victory.
It was surely one of the most skilful and courageous shots ever played to win a tour event. And it needed to be spot on given the Chilean golfer, Felipe Aguilar, was right on his heels, a shot behind, and one ahead of a group of four tied for 3rd including Ireland’s Gary Murphy.