reports from Mount Juliet
A day pre-billed as a confrontation between Colin Montgomerie and Greg Norman for the Murphy's Irish Open here proved to be anything but yesterday. Instead, Sam Torrance, who had not intended to play in the tournament, came through a three-man play-off to win at the second extra hole.
The prize for beating Howard Clark and Stuart Cage in extra time was pounds 111,107, but it came gift-wrapped with a place in the European Ryder Cup team. With 361,470 points, he is almost certain to face the Americans at Oak Hill in September.
Torrance, who shot a one- under-par 71 in the final round proper for a total 277, secured his second win of the season when he rolled in a putt of 10 feet on the 518-yard par-five 17th for an eagle, after he drilled a three wood 243 yards to nine feet from the flag. Even then he had to hole the putt, as Clark had secured a birdie from 15 feet.
"This is the best win of my career," he said. "Against a field of that class and on such a good course, it ranks above anything I've done before. That second shot to the second play-off hole was the greatest I've ever made under pressure."
Torrance had planned to miss this event to be home for the birth of his third child, but when his daughter, Anouska, arrived a week early, he decided to come to Mount Juliet. "I'm bloody glad I did," he said. "I made my first Ryder Cup team in 1981 by the Irish Open and it's nice to do it here again."
Torrance and Clark had seen off Cage on the first extra hole when the former Walker Cup player hooked his second shot into the lake at the 18th. "I rushed it," he said. "It's part of the learning process." Clark, meanwhile, was magnanimous in defeat. "I'm glad that Sam won," he said. "He's been a friend for a long time."
Norman's challenge fizzled out with a disappointing one-over-par 73, while Montgomerie collapsed on the closing holes and got his 73 only by chipping in from a bunker at the last.
Montgomerie struggled with his emotions throughout the day. A lost ball on the fourth led to a triple-bogey seven and a face like thunder, so when a spectator moved to take a photograph, he snapped: "Put it away." He resolutely failed to do that himself, bogeying two of the last four holes. "It's all my fault," he said after finishing on 278. "I've blown another one."
But if he was dismayed, Bernhard Langer was doubly so after throwing away a winning position. The defending champion threatened a great round yesterday, but had to settle for a three-under-par 69.
The German came out of the blocks in the morning like Linford Christie, and after 12 holes was eight under for the day, and was sharing the lead with front-runners who had yet to start their round. "I knew 11 under would not be enough, so I had to keep attacking," he said. "I was aiming to be 15 or 16 under."
Mount Juliet is not a course to be trifled with, however, and Langer's ambition proved to be his downfall. At the 13th, his approach shot, a seven iron of 164 yards, was as good as he could hope for. "I wouldn't change it now even if I had the chance," he said, "but a gust of wind came from nowhere and blew it into the water a foot from the green."
A double-bogey six there ended Langer's hopes. He lost his ball up a tree at the 17th, struck timber again at the 18th, and by the end he had shot off the leaderboard with considerable downward velocity, finishing on 282.
Craig Stadler also glimpsed something far better than his joint fourth place, a shot away from the play-off. "I've had the habit of making 68s into 72s recently," the American said. "Today I turned a potential 62 into 66. I had the chances but couldn't take them. We are never satisfied." However, he could rest assured that Torrance was last night.
n Brett Ogle birdied the 18th after almost holing his approach shot to share the lead with Steve Lowery after the third round of the Western Open in Lemont, Illinois, on Saturday. The Australian's seven-iron nearly landed in the cup, and he tapped in from 10 inches to join Lowery on a seven-under-par 209. They were one stroke ahead of the half-way leader, Jay Haas, while 15 others were within four shots of the lead.
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