Rory McIlroy conjured up two magical strikes of the highest quality as he held off a valiant challenge from Russell Knox to claim the Irish Open title at the K Club.
McIlroy delighted his legion of adoring home fans with a remarkable sequence of shots over the final three holes to turn a one-stroke deficit into a three-shot victory, closing out his first win of the year with an eagle at the 72nd hole.
Danny Willett began the final round as the biggest threat to the tournament host, but the Masters champion missed a series of birdie chances and dropped five shots in four holes down the stretch to plummet out of contention.
Knox birdied 14 and 15 to jump into a one-shot lead, but the tournament turned on its head at the par-five 16th as McIlroy laced a three-wood to the heart of the green and two-putted for birdie, while Knox again needed three putts to get down and walked off with a bogey six.
The deflated Scot parred the last two to settle for a share of second on nine under with Bradley Dredge, who birdied 17 and 18 to cap a superb six-under 66, while Matthew Southgate staged a strong finish to clinch outright fourth after a 68.
2016 Irish Open: Final Leaderboard
Position Player To Par Final Round Score
1 Rory McIlroy -12 69
T2 Bradley Dredge -9 66
T2 Russell Knox -9 68
4 Matthew Southgate -8 68
T5 Martin Kaymer -6 65
T5 Maximilian Kieffer -6 67
T5 Tyrrell Hatton -6 70
McIlroy becomes the first player to win a European Tour event he has hosted and he will donate his winning prize of €666,660 to the Rory Foundation.
“I was trying to stay as relaxed as possible,” he said. “Even when Russell birded 14 and 15, which are two of the toughest holes on the course, I knew that my length would be an advantage over the last three holes.
“I told myself, ‘I’m still in this, I still have chances’. I didn’t quite think I’d end up with my three (on the 18th) but I thought I still had a chance so I stayed as patient as I possibly could. But when there’s 30,000 people roaring you on, that’s quite hard. It was absolutely incredible. I don’t know if I can put it into words. I don’t really get emotional when I win but I was trying to hold back the tears there on the 18th green”.
“Just looking up there and seeing all my friends and family and the support that I’ve had this week. To win in front of them, I don’t get a chance to play in front my home fans very often so to play like that and to finish like that today, I’ll never forget it”.
Rob Brooks @GolfNation_
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