By Brian Keogh
South of Ireland Championship
Dunmurry's Darren Crowe confessed that it was third time lucky as he etched out a dramatic 18th hole victory in the South of Ireland Amateur Open Championship at Lahinch.
The red-haired Ulsterman, 26, looked to be cruising to victory when he led Galway's Joe Lyons by three holes with just five to play.
But bogeys at the 14th, 15th and 17th left him hanging on my his fingertips and he was more relieved than elated at the finish after narrowly avoiding what would have been a third consecutive defeat in Ireland’s oldest provincial championship.
A bogey six by Lyons, who took two to escape from a deep greenside bunker at the par-five finishing hole, left Crowe with two putts for the title from less than four feet.
He was never asked to putt, however, and admitted afterwards that a third successive Lahinch defeat would have been hard to take.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Crowe said: "The win in the South means a lot. I wouldn't have liked to have lost this one. As Padraig Harrington said at the Open, I don't know if I would have come back.
"I was pretty nervous about it before I went out. Being the third final, I didn't want to have the label of losing three finals in a row. I got lucky in the end to be perfectly honest.”
Left with a three-iron to the 18th green, Crowe thinned it slightly and was relieved to see the ball stop just over the brow of a mound at the back of the 18th.
“I was surprised it finished where it was,” he said. “I thought it was going to be up against the wall. And I was shocked when Joe left his first shot in the bunker, because he had played those so well all day.”
While Lyons came out to 20 feet in four, Crowe chipped a nine-iron to three and a half feet a was relieved not to be asked to putt again after his opponent’s 20 footer for par came up short,.
"I have to say that it means even more to me than winning the North last year,” Crowe said. “But I nearly threw that one away as well. I was three up with three to go against Connor Doran and only won on the last as well.”
In the rain-lashed, morning semi-finals, Crowe was unstoppable as he defeated Royal Dublin's Niall Kearney 3&2, going five up after seven at one stage, while Lyons beat Castletroy's Stephen Moloney 2&1.
But while the sun-splashed final produced just four birdies, it was a nerve-jangling classic right to the end as 35-year-old Offaly native Lyons birdied the first but lost the par-five fourth to a fine Crowe up-and-down for birdie.
Lyons lost the sixth and seventh to pars, the latter after a 90 degree shank from a tricky sidehill lie at the edge of the green.
Crowe then turned the screw, firing a “little six-iron” to 20 feet at the 166-yard eighth to go three up.
But while the Ulsterman conceded short 11th after taking three to reach the green, Lyons looked out for the count when he three-putted the 12th from long range to go three down again and then missed a five footer for a winning birdie at the 13th where Crowe was unlucky to be left with an impossible chip after almost driving the green.
A poor drive at the 14th cost Crowe a hole and when Lyons found the apron with his approach to the 15th after wild hook onto the 14th fairway, Crowe bunkered his three-iron approach, bogeyed again and saw his advantage cut to one hole.
Crowe admitted that his brilliant bunker shot to four feet at the 16th was a trifle lucky, but having escaped with a half there, he overclubbed at the 17th and bogeyed for the third time in four holes to leave the match all square playing the last.
In the end, the gods smiled on Crowe but with the South title in the bag and the North already on his mantelpiece, he has set his sights of the East, West and Irish Close titles.
"I always thought the West would be the first one but it didn't turn out that way," Crowe said. "I've been second in the East and in the semis of the West and the Close. So it's certainly a goal - to try and complete the set."
McNamara&Co South of Ireland Championship, Lahinch
Semifinals; D Crowe (Dunmurry) bt N Kearney (Royal Dublin) 3/2;
J Lyons (Galway) bt S Moloney (Castletroy) 2/1.
Final: D Crowe bt J Lyons 1 hole.