O’Rourke lifts title following duel in the sun at 2016 St Andrews Links Trophy
The 2016 Links Trophy delivered another thrilling finish at the Home of Golf as Ireland’s Conor O’Rourke emerged from a dramatic duel down the closing stretch to clinch his biggest-ever win.
The 24-year-old from Naas, near Dublin, played precise golf over 72 holes on the New and Old Courses to complete a wire-to-wire victory and defeat talented Nairn teenager Sandy Scott following a fantastic head-to-head battle on the final day.
“What an amazing place to win my first proper tournament,” said O’Rourke, after signing off with a 70 on the Old Course for a 12-under-par 275 total and a one-shot victory over Scott (71).
O’Rourke, who said his previous biggest win had been a “tiny” scratch event in Ireland, was clearly shellshocked as he paraded the trophy on the Swilcan Bridge. However, as he became only the second Irishman after Alan Dunbar (2009) to win the coveted prize, he said he felt no nerves on the course, on this his first visit to the Home of Golf.
O’Rourke added, “I’ve been working a lot with my coach on the mental side and just playing every shot as it comes. I’ve never been in this position before so I was studying leaderboards the whole way home but I kept my mind focused and trusted my technique. I’m just thrilled to have won, it’s just a dream.”
With bright sunshine and a cool Easterly wind, scoring conditions were not straightforward for the players. However, O’Rourke and Scott seemed to master them, with each delivering quality shot after quality shot.
Such was the standard of Scott’s challenge that O’Rourke admitted he felt “relieved” after coming out on top following their ding-dong battle on the final day. “Sandy just played great all day,” he added. “I knew it was going to be close and he kept making birdies on the back nine to keep me honest.”
The pair were tied on ten-under-par after 54 holes before Scott, winner of both the Scottish Boys’ Stroke-Play Championship and East of Scotland Open last year, put his approach at the first into the Swilcan Burn and took a double bogey 6.
Scott may be slight in stature at just 17-years-old, but his competitive spirit, nerve and undoubted ability shone through as he rolled in two 15-foot birdie putts at the ninth and tenth, then sank a four-footer for a 3 at the 12th to draw level. He stopped O’Rourke from edging ahead again by converting a 14-foot downhill par putt at the 14th for par before the Irishman regained the lead by hitting a 9-iron to six inches at the 15th.
A pulled approach at the 16th by O’Rourke led to a three-putt bogey, before they headed to the 17th, both launching meteoric drives down the right centre of the fairway. O’Rourke pushed his approach and was fortunate that it came to rest on the strip of grass between the cinder path and the road. Admitting “nerves got the better of me”, Scott then pulled his approach into the cavernous Road Hole bunker and the pairs short game skills were put to the test.
“It was a nasty lie but I was relieved to at least see it on grass,” admitted O’Rourke, who pitched to four feet and saved his par while Scott’s splash shot from the bunker left him with around ten feet to stay tied. As the putt slipped agonisingly by, O’Rourke was left to make a solid par on 18 and clinch the prestigious prize and start raucous celebrations with his compatriots from Ireland.
“It’s my first time here and it’s just an incredible place,” said O’Rourke. “You dream about coming to play golf here, and to come to the Home of Golf and win on these fantastic courses, against this field, is just incredible.”
O’Rourke also lifted the Ian Forbes Memorial Cup for the best aggregate score at the halfway stage, with rounds of 65 (New Course) and 69 (Old Course) giving him the 36-hole lead at -9. Bearsden Golf Club’s Ewen Ferguson finished third on -10, capping off a great week for Scottish golf with nine scots making the cut and many of them joining Scott and Ferguson in contention over the weekend.
The 2016 St Andrews Links Trophy also enjoyed a visit from the Red Arrows, who joined the field of 144 golfers from 21 countries from around the world.