Mikko Ilonen won the 2014 Irish Open by one stroke on Sunday, shooting 13 under par overall to claim his fourth European Tour victory of his career.
The Fin added a 70 to his week’s rounds of 64, 68 and 69 to land the trophy in wire-to-wire fashion, with Italian Edoardo Molinari one shot adrift at the top of the leaderboard, as we see below:
|Position||Player||To Par||Sunday's Round|
Though Ilonen had a star-studded chasing pack behind him heading into the final round, the 34-year-old was composure personified throughout Sunday’s play and went about his business in professional style.
His 70 came with just one blemish on the card, with two early birdies on the second and fourth followed by 13 straight pars before a closing bogey on No. 18 at Fota Island.
The birdie on No. 4 summed up the way that he’s conducted himself throughout the week, using his short game to devastating effect to reach the 13-under total.
After two colossal shots at the par-five, 581-yard hole, Ilonen found himself in a tricky spot beside a greenside bunker. However, it was nothing the Fin couldn’t handle, chipping up to a matter of inches for the birdie—as European Tour revealed via Instagram:
Thirteen pars and a bogey later, the 2014 Irish Open champion was crowned, winning plaudits from fans and players alike—including fellow competitor Pablo Larrazabal via Twitter:
Following the round, Ilonen told the European Tour's official website that Martin Kaymer's US Open victory was his inspiration for victory in Ireland:
It was very much Martin Kaymer-inspired win. I sent a message to him last week that I really enjoyed watching golf. I very rarely enjoy watching golf; I would rather play golf, but Martin's win inspired me. It was nice to keep that lead all the way. I made sure that I paced myself well and I'm not too quick with things and keep my head up no matter what happens, and I kept on doing the same thing all the time, tried to hit the fairway. I hit a lot of greens today and kept okay pace with my putting. I looked back on the 18th green and I couldn't believe how many people there were. It's nice to see—it was a very humble moment.
Elsewhere, home favourite Graeme McDowell made no improvements to his score of 10 under on Sunday, as one birdie and one bogey saw him take a share of sixth place.
Molinari put up the biggest fight of the chasing pack on Day 4, carding a four-under-par 67, but it was England’s Ross Fisher that produced the round of the day in Cork.
With seven birdies, including four in his first six holes, and one bogey, Fisher rolled back the years to post his 65, finishing the week nine under par in a tie for eighth.
The day, however, belonged to Ilonen, whose wire-to-wire victory was followed by an incredible number of fans in Cork—per European Tour:
29,387 fans for final day @IrishOpen2014 taking total attendance for week to 104,810! Superb support from fans across Ireland and Europe.— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) June 22, 2014
The BMW International Open in Cologne is next up for Ilonen, who will join a whole host of stars looking to build momentum ahead of The Open Championship in mid-July.
If the Finnish star plays the way he did in Ireland, though, you can consider him a real contender for back-to-back titles.
Round 3 Recap
Moving day lived up to its moniker during the third round of the Irish Open. Several players were able to make a charge up the leaderboard at Fota Island Resort on Saturday. It sets up what should be an entertaining final round with plenty of players still in serious contention.
|T-8||Magnus A. Carlsson||-8|
Mikko Ilonen, who held the lead after each of the first two rounds, was able to keep his head out front heading into Sunday. That almost wasn't the case as a bogey on the 17th dropped him into a tie with Danny Willett for a brief period.
The Finnish veteran was able the birdie the 18th for the third straight day to grab the edge back, though. Even a one-shot advantage is helpful heading into the final day. Playing the finishing hole so efficiently also helps build confidence.
Fota Island Golf passed along a picture of the leader after finishing his round on a high note:
Although Ilonen prevented Willett from holding a share of the lead, the Englishman was still the day's biggest mover. He posted an 8-under round of 63 to set the course record and move himself back into the mix for the title.
The highlight of the round came on the par-3 seventh as carded an ace. The Irish Independent provided comments from him after the round about the shot:
We had a perfect number, 168 yards with an eight iron but you never expect it to slam dunk. That was a bit of a bonus.
If he can put together another strong performance on Sunday, the ace could end up being the difference in the end.
Graeme McDowell is the most well-known player among the top 10 after Saturday. The 2010 U.S. Open winner looked like he was able to fall off the pace after back-to-back bogeys on the eighth and ninth, but rebounded with three birdies on the back nine without dropping a shot.
Who's your pick heading into the final round?
Looking ahead to the final round, chaos could very well reign supreme. With so many players within five or six strokes of the lead all it's going to take is a round similar to Willett's today in order to come from off the radar and potentially steal the win.
Of those near the top of the leaderboard it's hard not to like McDowell's chances. He fully understands the pressure of chasing a win on Saturday. Furthermore, it's tough to get a wire-to-wire win like Ilonen is trying to accomplish and backing up a tremendous round with another, which is the task for Willett, is also very difficult.
Regardless of who comes out on top, it should be a round filled with drama.
Round 2 Recap
Round 2 of the 2014 Irish Open saw Finland's Mikko Ilonen maintain his supremacy at the top of the tournament leaderboard. After his record-setting exploits on the opening day, Ilonen was a little more steady.
There was no minus-7, but instead a solid minus-3 from the savvy pro. But while Ilonen kept the status quo alive, there was significant change behind him.
German Marcel Siem tumbled out of the reckoning. He had been in a three-way tie for second with Swedish pair Robert Karlsson and Magnus A Carlsson, who also fell out of contention.
Englishman Robert Rock now leads a three-way tie for second spot. He is joined by Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell, along with Frenchman Romain Wattel.
Here is a full break down of how the leaderboard looks after Round 2:
Those are how the top 10 positions are ordered after two rounds. A comprehensive look at the full leaderboard is available at EuropeanTour.com.
Ilonen has been the pacesetter so far. He shot 64 during the opening round at Fota Island Resort. He is clearly enamoured with the course at Cork, as he hit a 68 to stay at the summit.
That has left Ilonen two shots in front of the impressive McDowell. He hit a 66 to cap a strong showing in Round 2. McDowell produced six birdies as part of his assured performance.
Along with Englishman Paul Casey, McDowell impressed at the fourth hole, to keep the pressure on Ilonen. Casey, the defending Irish Open champion, couldn't maintain his fast start though.
Meanwhile, McDowell just got better. He continued to saunter across the course, managing to traverse the tough holes without too much difficulty. McDowell was chipping away at Ilonen, hoping that consistent pressure would eventually lead to a mistake.
But Ilonen has done nothing rash during the early rounds of this tournament. As he has done throughout the Open so far, Ilonen held his nerve when it counted.
He calmly negotiated the 18th hole to stay in the box seat over the weekend:
Ilonen has made himself difficult to chase down because he has maintained one speed. He has simply stuck to doing whatever the course demands of him.
It's not a particularly thrilling brand of golf. But his mechanical, copybook swings are being replicated at every hole.
Ilonen emphasised his methodical approach after play had ended, per EuropeanTour.com:
I got there on 16 but then I lost it on 17, so it was good to birdie the last hole. I wanted to get to at least ten under, and I just did that.
I said yesterday, one shot at a time, one hole at a time. It's a long week, but two rounds of golf, it's a long way from here. Got to keep the head down and go one shot at a time.
It's going to take something out of the ordinary for one of the chasing pack to overtake Ilonen during the weekend.
Round 1 Recap
Finland's Mikko Ilonen shot a course-record round of seven-under 64 on Thursday to establish a two-shot lead over a trio of players after the first day at the Irish Open.
Tied for second having shot five-under 66s are Germany's Marcel Siem and two Swedes in the shape of Robert Karlsson and Magnus A Carlsson.
Here is the leaderboard after the first round of play in Ireland:
|T2||Magnus A Carlsson||-5|
Ilonen completed an almost flawless round on Thursday. He bogeyed just once (No. 1) and picked up a total of eight birdies throughout the round. Starting on the 10th, he birdied three of his back nine, bogeyed the first—his 10th hole—but then picked up five shots from his final seven holes.
It was a virtuoso performance from the 34-year-old, who pointed to his late-round form as the reason for his great card, per the European Tour:
It was a slow start really. The first sort of four or five holes I felt like I can't get anything going, but I stayed patient and then the birdies kept coming. In the end I managed to hit a couple of good putts which was nice.
It was another incredible back-nine performance that sees Siem placed in joint second. He was at one-over for his front nine having bogeyed two holes, but he claimed six birdies from the 10th—including four consecutive in the middle holes—to card a very impressive 66, per Wilson Golf:
Italy's Edoardo Molinari made good progress in his round as he shot a four-under 67 with six birdies and two bogeys. He is tied in fifth with Englishman Matthew Baldwin as well as Daan Huizing and Anders Hansen.
Further down the leaderboard, Ross Fisher and Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell sit on three-under while veteran Jose Maria Olazabal carded a two-under 69.
World No. 6 and pre-tournament favourite Rory McIlroy endured a torrid opening round as he carded a three-over 74, which leaves him in danger of missing the cut unless he can pull something out of the bag on Friday.
His six-bogey round does not constitute good preparation for the Open—the golf season's third major—which is approaching next month.
The 25-year-old blamed his short game for the poor round, per Phil Casey of the Press Association, via the Daily Mail:
I still drove the ball great and got in the positions that you need to, but short-sided myself a couple of times, hit a couple of loose shots with my wedges and could not get a putt to drop. I was pretty sloppy with the scoring clubs so I might head to the range this afternoon to work on those. I need to do better tomorrow to be here for the weekend.
Whether or not McIlroy can stay in the Irish Open remains to be seen, but at the top of the leaderboard, Ilonen could make a real surge for the victory if he can card anything close to as good a round as his opener on Friday.
However, there are a lot of strong contenders sitting not too far back who will be ready to pounce should the man from Finland slip up.