When it was all over, Rory McIlroy removed his cap and worked his hand through his hair as he logged the information on the leaderboard behind the 18th green of the Old Course at St Andrews, only too aware that he had come up short again on the famous golfing terrain and that New Zealander Ryan Fox was destined to lift the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship title.
For McIlroy, a final round 66 – seven birdies and a lone bogey – for a total of 13-under-par 275, saw him on an upward trajectory for much of the day but ultimately left the world number two in tied-fourth position, two strokes adrift of Fox who claimed a third career win and second of this season on the DP World Tour.
McIlroy, again, had regrets on the Old Course where in the summer he had finished third behind Cameron Smith in the 150th Open. This time, his final round started with four straight pars before bursting into life with a birdie on the on the fifth that sparked a run of six birdies in nine holes to move into contention. He failed to birdie the par five 14th and then suffered a bogey on the infamous 17th where he put his approach into the Road Hole bunker, paying a price for his aggressive play.
Having started the final round eight shots behind leader Richard Mansell, McIlroy was six-under on his round through 13 holes and right in the mix as he headed for home only for him to stall.
“I did everything I wanted to do but didn’t make birdie on 14, which halted the momentum and it was a bit of a struggle on the way in and it was nice to birdie the last,” said McIlroy. “Once I birdied 13, the two birdie holes coming in were 14 and 18 and I thought if I could get one more, that’s what I wanted to get to, but not birdieing 14 was a momentum killer and then 17 was playing pretty tough. I came up two or three short of my target at the end.”
McIlroy retains his place atop the Race to Dubai order of merit standings, which concludes with the Tour Championship in the emirates in mid-November, while Fox’s win moved the Kiwi up to seventh in the updated points list.
Pádraig Harrington, on a rare European Tour outing away from his Champions Tour commitments in the United States, signed off with a 70 for 279 in tied-17th position.
Fox’s emotional win – given poignancy in that he traditionally played the pro-am team event with the late cricketer Shane Warne – came on a lovely, dry October day that saw him sign for a finishing 68 for a 15-under-par total of 273, a stroke clear of England’s Callum Shinkwin and Sweden’s Alex Noren.
“Shane meant a lot to me and in this event, he was a great mate,” said Fox. “It’s a terrible shame he is not here. Obviously I was pretty nervy down the last three holes. I didn’t hit very good tee shots down the 16th, 17th, 18th, and he was definitely helping out.” Fox moved to 25th in the world rankings on the back of his win.
England’s Richard Mansell, seeking a breakthrough win on the European Tour, started the final round with a four shot advantage but faded to a closing 76 for 277 which dropped him into a share of seventh.
On the Challenge Tour, Ruaidhrí McGee closed with a 69 for 278 in the Hopps Open de Provence in France which left him in tied-ninth, seven shots behind winner Joel Sjoholm of Sweden. McGee’s finish, his third top-10 of the season, moved him up four places to 43rd on the order of merit with just three tournaments remaining as the Derry man bids to make onto the main tour.