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Wilson wins in fairytale at St Andrews

By: Golf Shake | Mon 06 Oct 2014

Post by Sports Writer Derek Clements

Six years ago, Oliver Wilson was a member of Nick Faldo's European Ryder Cup team. He hadn't yet managed to win a tournament but a bucketload of runner-up finishes promised much for the Englishman. To be precise, he had finished second on nine occasions without turning any of them into victories.

Europe lost the 2008 Ryder Cup and, slowly, Wilson's game unravelled, so much so that he lost his card and his playing rights. In the years since then, he has played on the Europro Tour and the Challenge Tour, but has generally been a shadow of the golfer we all thought he was certain to turn out to be.

His decline has been such that he began the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship with his world ranking languishing at 791.. But something happened to Wilson at the Dunhill, a pro-am played at St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns.

He led after the first round following a fabulous 64, but then came a 72, and most people expected that to be the end of his challenge. To his eternal credit, Wilson shot the lights out in a third round of 65 to take a three-shot lead into the final round.

The bad news for Wilson is that among those hunting him down were Tommy Fleetwood, who is having a golden season, home favourite Richie Ramsay and world No 1 Rory McIlroy. And the bad news for everybody was that McIlroy, playing with his father, Gerry, in the pro-am, was determined to help his dad celebrate his 55th birthday in style.

Things don't always work out as you expect though.

The final round of this tournament is played over the Old Course at St Andrews and while all his rivals were holing birdie putts on the front nine, Wilson was struggling with eight pars and a bogey. His three-shot lead had gone, with Ramsay reaching the turn in 33 and then adding birdies at the 10th and 11th holes.

Suddenly Wilson, the forgotten man, was playing catch-up. It would have been understandable had he faded way, but he knew how important a day this was. Victory would give him plenty of ranking points. More important than that, it would secure his playing privileges on the European Tour for 2015 and 2016, and allow him to bank a tidy cheque for £490,000.

Ramsay got himself into pole position, but bogeys at the 16th and 17th saw him finish at 16 under par. McIlroy, trying to be clever from just short of the Road Hole bunker at the 17th, hit his approach into the bunker and saw his challenge end there and then, despite a birdie on the 18th.

Wilson hit a stunning approach to the 16th into the wind, leaving him a tap-in for a birdie, and a brilliant pitch at the 17th to save his par. It meant that he stood on the 18th tee with a one-shot lead from Fleetwood, who had holed superb par putts on the 16th and 17th.

Wilson hit a good drive at the final hole and left his second shot 15 feet from hole. Fleetwood hit his approach to eight feet. When Wilson missed, Fleetwood had his putt to force a playoff, but he couldn't make it. Wilson was back and, at last, he was a winner. A great end to an incredible story.

It was no surprise that, as Wilson fell into the arms of his wife, the tears ran down his cheeks. His final round of 70, in which he came home in 33 shots, took him to 17 under par. He won by a single shot from Fleetwood, McIlroy and Ramsay.

"I don't have words for what's happened today. I can't thank the sponsors enough for giving me the invitation," he said. "I had a couple of three putts early on and thought, 'Here we go again.' But I hit some great shots on the back nine. The shot I hit to the 16th was one of the best of my life. I have missed out nine times without ever playing badly and it has been difficult to take.

"I have been playing decent in recent weeks. I put a new driver in the bag, and that helped. And I spent a lot of time with Rocky [fellow pro Robert Rock] and he helped me hugely. A lot of people have written me off, so this means a huge amount. Shooting a 64 on the opening day at Carnoustie helped me a lot.

"I slept badly on Saturday night, thinking about what might happen to me if I won, but honestly, I didn't really believe I would do it. I have waited a long time for this and may be drunk for a while. I really can't believe this - I don't have to worry about going back to qualifying school and can now look forward to playing in some big tournaments again."

There has been no more popular winner on the European Tour in 2014. It is a wonderful finish to a scarcely credible story.

Image Credit - European Tour Facebook Page

Derek Clements is a sports journalist with a particular passion for golf with over 12 years of experience covering golf and other sports including Chief Sub-Editor on the sports desk of The Sunday Times. To contact Derek email direct via [email protected]

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