Brian Keogh in Ballyliffin

Des Smyth stood dripping in the scorer’s hut at stormed-lashed Ballyliffin with a wry smile on his face and a look of sadness in his blue eyes.

Only a victory in the Senior British Open would have meant more to the 55-year-old from Bettystown but after coming within a whisker of ending a decade-long wait for a home winner of the Irish Seniors Open, the golden prize was snatched from under his nose by a stroke of sheer genius on the 18th by the dogged Spaniard Juan Quiros.

The Old Links was ravaged from midday by 25 mph west winds and relentless Atlantic rain, but the man from the town of La Linea, overlooking the Straits of Gibraltar, proved to be as nerveless as the Rock itself.

With Smyth just short of the green in two on the 580-yard par-five 18th, the 52-year-old rifled a 132-yard wedge through the maelstrom and watched it pitch just past the flag and spin to a halt two feet from the cup, setting up what proved to be a winning birdie four.

Having held a three-stroke lead after just five holes and a one-stroke advantage with three to play, overnight leader Smyth was now required to get up and down from 30 yards to force and a play-off. But his pitch grabbed too soon and he failed with make the 20 footer required to extend the action to extra holes.

Quiros tapped in his short victory putt, clenching his fists in victory after carding a one-over par 72 that left him the only man in red figures after three rounds on one-under par - one clear of Smyth, who shot a three-over par 74 for level par and four better than a sextet of players in third place.

It was the stocky Spaniard’s third European Tour victory in as many seasons and the winner’s cheque for €67,500 lifted him from 26th to fourth on the Order of Merit after an unforgettable day in Donegal.

Just four players broke par in the final round, but all of them set off before 8.45 am while no-one in the last eight groups managed to match par as the weather turned nasty from midday, taking the gloss off an otherwise successful week for the home club.

As Quiros explained: “The course was okay this morning but an hour before I started the conditions changed, the wind was coming in from the beach and it was unbelievable.”

One ahead overnight and three shots clear of Quiros and Gordon Brand after making two birdies in the first five holes, Smyth couldn’t shake off the dogged Spaniard in end-of-the-world conditions.

As relentless as the weather, the Andalucian birdied the sixth and seventh, holed a 25-foot par putt at the ninth to remain just one-stroke adrift and then played the back nine in three-over par 39 to Smyth’s 41 to claim the biggest prize of his career.

“The back nine was horrendous, it was lashing rain and it was blowing a gale,” said Smyth, who dropped four shots in a three hole stretch from the 11th to go two behind but birdied the par five 14th to a double bogey by Quiros to edge one clear again before faltering at the finish.

Bunkered awkwardly at the 16th, he bogeyed there to go one behind and then hit his five-iron tee shot heavy at the 170-yard 17th, where he got away with a bogey four after Quiros three putted from the back fringe.

With the title riding on the 18th, Smyth hit two career shots into the throat of the hole but failed to matched Quiros’s mastery with the wedge and had to settle for what was his first top-ten finish for nine months.

“It was very difficult to play golf but, in fairness to him, he hit a wonderful shot at the last,” Smyth said. “I played some very good golf this week but I think the weather beat us today. We were trying our heart out.

"I played great early on but then the rain came and made it so difficult to play. Whatever about the wind, the rain was horrendous. I just lost my feel coming down there. I couldn’t figure out the greens at all. I was finding it hard to swing actually and make good contact with the ball on the back nine.

“Still, I had a chance. I hit a poor pitch on that last. He hit a great shot in. I just hit too many bad shots down the back nine.

“I enjoyed my week. I’m just disappointed with the way it turned out and it’s a pity we didn’t get a better day than that but it was the same for everybody. No point in blaming the weather.”


Irish Seniors Open, Ballyliffin (Old Links, par 71)
212 J Quiros (Esp) 71 69 72;
213 D Smyth (Irl) 71 68 74;
216 G Cali (Ita) 69 75 72; L Carbonetti (Arg) 69 76 71; D Russell (Eng) 72 70 74; S Owen (Nzl) 71 73 72; N Job (Eng) 71 73 72; G Brand (Eng) 70 70 76;
217 I Woosnam (Wal) 76 67 74; G Encina (Chi) 75 71 71; D O'Sullivan (Irl) 72 70 75; J Chillas (Sco) 72 71 74; S Torrance (Sco) 71 70 76; B Cameron (Eng) 72 74 71;
218 B Charles (Nzl) 71 75 72; D Good (Aus) 71 73 74; S Ginn (Aus) 74 77 67; R Drummond (Sco) 73 76 69; T Gale (Aus) 75 71 72;
219 S Ebihara (Jpn) 75 75 69; T Allen (Eng) 74 74 71; M Piñero (Esp) 71 74 74; A Fernandez (Chi) 75 73 71;
220 A Sowa (Arg) 72 76 72; T Charnley (Eng) 72 74 74; A Barrera (Arg) 70 72 78; L Higgins (Irl) 73 75 72; B Heuchan (Can) 73 74 73; K Tomori (Jpn) 71 76 73; K Spurgeon (Eng) 74 72 74; D Hospital (Esp) 76 67 77; C Rocca (Ita) 71 71 78; D Cambridge (Jam) 73 71 76; H Carbonetti (Arg) 74 75 71; B Longmuir (Sco) 71 70 79;
221 J Bland (RSA) 72 73 76; M Gray (Sco) 80 70 71; S Lyle (Sco) 73 73 75; A Murray (Eng) 73 72 76; E Rodriguez (Esp) 73 69 79;
222 M Bembridge (Eng) 77 74 71; P Teravainen (USA) 77 70 75; E Darcy (Irl) 77 73 72; J Heggarty (Nir) 76 75 71; C Mason (Eng) 75 70 77; E Polland (Nir) 74 75 73;
223 A Garrido (Esp) 73 77 73; T Rastall (Eng) 73 79 71; B Lincoln (RSA) 73 76 74; T Johnstone (Zim) 74 77 72;
224 M Poxon (Eng) 75 75 74; B Larratt (Eng) 74 81 69; T Price (Wal) 76 74 74; B Boyd (USA) 77 76 71; J Hall (Eng) 76 74 74; I Mosey (Eng) 80 70 74; J Rivero (Esp) 74 76 74; E McMenamin (am) (Irl) 74 75 75;
225 J Sallat (Fra) 73 72 80; J Benda (USA) 77 72 76; P Dugeny (Fra) 74 78 73; D Merriman (Aus) 72 72 81; P O'Hagan (Irl) 74 75 76;
226 M Miller (Sco) 77 76 73; P Leonard (Nir) 77 74 75; G McGimpsey (am) (Nir) 75 73 78;
227 P Oakley (USA) 78 73 76;
228 A Tapie (USA) 67 83 78; A Franco (Par) 74 72 82; T Giedeon (Ger) 73 72 83; J Rhodes (Eng) 73 74 81;
229 V Smyth (am) (Irl) 77 77 75;
230 J Bruner (USA) 78 79 73;
231 J Hoskison (Eng) 73 77 81;
241 G Hopkins (USA) 83 82 76.