Irishman Conor O’Rourke was almost left shell-shocked after holding off stuffy Nairn teenager Sandy Scott to complete a wire-to-wire win in the St Andrews Links Trophy. “What an amazing place to win my first proper tournament,” said the 24-year-old from Naas, near Dublin, 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).
Asked what his previous biggest victory had been, O’Rourke added: “A tiny scratch thing back in Ireland that doesn’t even count.” Becoming only the second Irishman after Alan Dunbar (2009) to win this coveted prize certainly counts, with O’Rourke admitting he felt “relieved” after coming out on top following a ding-dong battle with Scott over the closing circuit.
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, gave his playing partner a “head start” in the final round by putting his approach at the first into the Swilcan Burn and taking a 6.
Scott may be slight in figure but he’s got a big heart, as he showed by rolling in two 15-foot birdie putts at the ninth and tenth then sinking 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 before the Irishman did regain the lead by hitting a 9-iron to six inches at the next.
O’Rourke reckoned a pulled approach at the 16th had been his only bad shot of the day, costing him a three-putt bogey, before this contest was added to a long list that have been decided at the 17th. After both players had hit majestic drives, 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.
“It was a nasty lie but I was relieved to see it on grass,” admitted O’Rourke, who pitched to four feet and saved par after Scott’s attempt from around ten feet to do likewise slid past the right edge.
“The technique has always been there, but I’ve improved mentally thanks to my coach, Gavin Lunny,” said O’Rourke. “In a situation like today in the past, I might have unravelled a bit and I’m just glad I held on.”
Scott, who doesn’t turn 18 until the end of this month, wasn’t downhearted after just missing out on becoming the event’s youngest winner since 1997 champion Justin Rose. “I’m very pleased because I did well to claw back after falling away at the start of the final round,” he said.
Bearsden’s Ewen Ferguson finished third on ten-under while Cawder duo Calum Fyfe and Jamie Savage were joint fouth with Frenchman Victor Veyret after his 67.