Donaldson wins Irish Open by four for his first European Tour victory

Jamie Donaldson at the Irish Open
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Jamie Donaldson birdied five of his last seven holes to shoot a fourth straight round in the 60s and end an 11-year winless drought that covered 255 tournaments.
By news services

Series: European Tour

Published: Sunday, July 01, 2012 | 3:03 p.m.

PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland -- Jamie Donaldson of Wales won his first European Tour title by shooting a 6-under 66 to clinch a four-stroke victory at the Irish Open on Sunday.

Beginning the fourth round with a one-shot lead, Donaldson birdied five of his last seven holes to shoot a fourth straight round in the 60s to total 18-under 270 and end an 11-year trophy drought that covered 255 tournaments.

''It feels a bit surreal, to be honest,'' said Donaldson, who topped a strong field that included home favorites Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Padraig Harrington.

''I didn't look at the leaderboard all day. I just felt really good out there. It's just been a case of keeping going. I knew that what I was doing was right.''

On a day of low scoring in calm conditions on the County Antrim links course, Rafael Cabrera-Bello of Spain and Fabrizio Zanotti of Paraguay also shot a 66 to finish tied for second with Anthony Wall (69), who played in the final group with Donaldson.

Mikael Lundberg of Sweden shot a 65 for the lowest round of the week.

The victory, sealed with a 25-foot birdie on the last hole, ended a wild week for Donaldson.

He started it by making the British Open by shooting a round of 62 in qualifying Monday before parting company with his caddie of five years on Tuesday. Two days later he made his first hole-in-one on theeuropean Tour.

''We haven't actually talked about fees,'' Donaldson said of his new caddie, Mick Donaghy. ''That could be interesting.''

In his 255th European Tour event and after a career in which he has had to battle with a genetic spine problem, the 36-year-old Donaldson finally tasted victory -- and he did it by four shots with five birdies in his last seven holes.

This was the first time since 1953 that the tournament had been played north of the border and what a success it was, with record crowds -- over 112,000 for the four days.

Every one of them will hope it leads to the return of the British Open after even longer -- Max Faulkner won that 61 years ago -- and Donaldson will join them in that wish.

The former amateur star, who partnered Luke Donald and Paul Casey in the World Amateur Team Championship in 2000, has suffered from Pars disease, but careful management of it has finally enabled him to fulfil his dream.

His brilliant closing 66 was only one off the low round of the week and a 25-foot putt on the last enabled him to reach 18 under par.

"I'm buzzing," he said. "And I'm so happy to have won on this course -- I don't think we have played a better one on the European Tour.

"It's just been a case of keeping going. I knew that what I was doing was right," said Donaldson when reminded of his long wait to break through -- it has contained 32 top-10 finishes. "It feels a bit surreal, to be honest. I don't think it will sink in till later."

Tied for second were Wall, Cabrera-Bello and Zanotti, but it was Lundberg who threatened most to grab the title away from Donaldson.

From six back, he covered the first 10 holes in a spectacular 8 under and led by two. He could not keep it going, though, and bogeys at the 16th and 18th meant he eventually finished tied for fifth.

With the local "Big Three" of Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke finishing 10th, 16th and 39th respectively, the main Irish hope was 2007 winner Padraig Harrington. He was only two behind when he teed off, but a disappointing 70 dropped him to a tie for seventh.

Donaldson, one in front of Wall overnight, didn’t ask caddie donaghy where he stood until they reached the final tee. The news was good. He was two ahead, and that became four when Wall, bunkered off his drive, bogeyed and Donaldson put the icing on the cake with his long birdie putt.

He had earlier had three in a row from the second, then came back with a bogey at the short 11th with three in the next four holes and after dropping a shot at the 16th -- he was the one in the sand there -- he closed with two more.

Wall's bogey at the last was disappointing, but to be in a tie for second was remarkable given that he had gone out of bounds and taken a triple-bogey 8 at the second. The Londoner, without a win since 2000, played the next 15 holes in six under to finish with a 69.

Zanotti and Dubai Desert Classic winner Cabrera-Bello both matched Donaldson's 66 and the Canary Islander's performance lifts him back into a qualifying position for the Ryder Cup with only two months of the race to go.

McIlroy, who came in on the back of four missed cuts in his last five starts, was delighted with his ball-striking, but will hope to putt much better when he next plays at Royal Lytham.

"Tee to green it was a big improvement," said the world No. 2 after his 67 today. "That's what I've been working on and maybe neglecting my short game. I've just got to get that sharp now and prepare for the Open -- and I'd love to see that come here."

Clarke echoed that and was able to draw positives from the fact that he had finally made a halfway cut this season.

"It's been an absolutely brilliant week," said the Open champion, who still has this week's French Open to try to boost his confidence further.

"Obviously I would have liked to score a bit better than I did," said Clarke. "But overall I think the event has been enjoyed not just by the professionals, but by the spectators and everybody involved."