England’s Richard Finch made a big splash with a two-stroke Irish Open win at Adare Manor and confessed: It hasn’t sunk in yet.
On a day when Ireland’s Gary Murphy secured his card with a superb third place finish, the Hull man had a three-shot lead playing the last and ended up out his depth!
After losing his balance playing his 102-yard third from the edge of the riverbank, the 30-year-old spectacularly tumbled into the River Maigue as the ball flew to the green.
Embarrassed at his splashdown but relieved to find the putting surface, he had four putts for victory and took just three from long range to close with the sweetest bogey six of his career.
A final round 70 left him two shots clear of Chile’s Felipe Aguilar on 10-under par as Kilkenny man Murphy banished his worries over his card to finish just three behind alongside Robert Karlsson, Maarten Lafeber and Lee Westwood after a brilliant 69.
Now Finch can look forward to making his Major championship debut in the Open at Royal Birkdale after pocketing a winner’s cheque for €416,660 to move up to fifth in the Order of Merit and to 10th in the Ryder Cup rankings.
Still soggy at the finish, Finch beamed: “It hasn’t really sunk in at the moment. Obviously I am delighted at how I’ve played all day.
“I didn’t go in the river by choice. Obviously I had a bit of an awkward stance and I thought about chipping out and hitting the next one on the green. But I never gave falling in a thought.
“It must have been the momentum of the follow-through. It was just a three-quarter shot and the momentum just took me around and in.”
The former English Amateur champion knows all about nail-biting finishes after a grim battle to save his tour card in the last event of the 2007 season.
But he finished seventh in the Mallorca Classic to scrape into the all-important top 115 on the money list and then went on to win the New Zealand Open five weeks later.
Just one stroke behind overnight leader Bradley Dredge, Finch raced ahead as the Welshman dropped three shots in the first three holes and eventually crashed to eighth after a 76.
Like Finch, Murphy knows what it’s like to struggle for his card entering the final event of the season and come through.
And it looked as though his sixth season on tour would be one of stress as he languished 140th in the Order of Merit after five missed cuts from his last six starts.
A midweek change of management company to Gary Evans' "Green 17" seemed to work wonders has he moved with within five of the leader in a share of ninth place with Rory McIlroy with a round to play.
The he made his move with a hat-trick of birdies from the second before a fantastic long-iron to 18 inches at the sixth left him tied at the top with Finch on eight under.
A three-putt bogey at the eighth and another mistake at the 13th cost him his chance of victory but he was happy to close with a single-putt birdie at the 18th to finish as the leading Irishman for the second time since 2003.
Delighted to grab €118,750 and move up 71 places to 69th in the money lost, Murphy said: “It’s been tough for the last couple of months. I haven’t been playing particularly well, just not scoring.
“It’s been frustrating so it’s nice to get a good performance this week, to get it going again.
“I’ve good memories around here from the Irish PGA. I had the course record before Padraig Harrington destroyed it, so I was looking forward to the week. It’s just a little added pressure when you are coming back to play in your national Open.
“I was planking myself the whole day, so it was constant nervousness. I got a little bit edgy on the greens but you are coming down the stretch on a Sunday afternoon."
Murphy should comfortably retain his card for next season - “Unless I break my leg tonight” - but admitted that he was feeling a little left out after pals Damien McGrane and Peter Lawrie picked up their first wins recently.
He said: “It kick-starts the year and there’s a lot of positive energy at the moment with all the Irish guys winning. So it’s nice to be feeding off it.
“If they are winning tournaments and I’m not, I suppose I was sort of left out. To be honest, I was just pleased for the lads. We’ve all soldiered together for a long time and genuinely just happy for them."
McIlroy was seventh on six under after a 70 with Darren Clarke (73) and Paul McGinley (71) tied for 16th on two under.
Peter Lawrie had an eagle two at the fifth in a 69, the second best score of the day, to finish 22nd and remain 15th in the Order of Merit.