Golf: Mikko Ilonen hailed the best year of his career after becoming the first Finnish player to win the Volvo World Match Play Championship with a hard-fought victory over top seed and good friend Henrik Stenson.
Ilonen carded five birdies and no bogeys despite the windy conditions at The London Club to win 3&1 and secure the first prize of €650,000, almost double his previous biggest payday from winning the Irish Open in June.
Stenson, who had not led at any stage of his morning semi-final against George Coetzee before making a birdie on the 18th to win, claimed an early lead in the final with a birdie on the fourth.
However, the world number five then bogeyed the fifth and hit his tee shot into the water on the eighth, before birdies on the 10th and 12th took Ilonen three up.
Stenson, still seeking his first win since the DP World Tour Championship in November last year which meant he became the first man to win the FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai in the same season, refused to throw in the towel and birdied the 13th to reduce his deficit.
But after almost holing his chip from the back of the 14th green, the Swede could only look on as Ilonen holed from 12 feet for birdie to move three ahead again, this time with just four holes remaining.
Stenson fought back once more with a two-putt birdie on the par-five 15th, but was unable to birdie either of the next two holes as Ilonen – who had beaten Joost Luiten 2&1 in the semi-finals – secured the biggest win of his career.
After winning the Irish Open in June, Ilonen revealed he was into the final year of a three-year plan he set for himself while sidelined for eighth months after undergoing ankle surgery.
His goal was to climb high enough in the world rankings to be able to qualify for all the biggest tournaments and this win takes him from 52nd to inside the top 40.
“Last year was a good one for me (he won the Nordea Masters) and 2007 was a good year (when he won twice),” added Ilonen, who is now on course to qualify for his first appearance in the Masters since 2001, when he was reigning British Amateur champion.
“I’ve had a few of them but if you look at all the world rankings and the tournaments I’ve won, obviously this year is on top.
lIreland’ Kevin Phelan finished third second as Australian Scott Hend edged Angelo Que in a play-off to clinch his maiden European Tour title at the Hong Kong Open.
A par on the first extra hole was enough to steer the 41-year-old past the Filipino, who missed the green on the 18th and then over-hit his chip.
Que’s fourth-round 66 forced the play-off after an intense back-nine battle, which ended with his birdie on the 18th tying things up with Hend at 13 under par.
On the final day Phelan hit three birdies in-a-row from the 16th to the 18th, but he finished on 11 under – two shots behind Hend and Que.
— Niall Turner (Muskerry Golf Club) continues his great run in the ADT where he finished second at the weekend in Taiwan.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved