Padraig Harrington declared the 3 Irish Open the winner after a sensational closing 64 forced Ross Fisher to the limit in a thrilling title race.
The Dubliner roared back to his best form with a sensational seven under par effort but came up just two shots short of his second home win in four years
Fisher, 29, bravely held off Harrington’s final round charge thanks to a scintillating 65 to grab his fourth tour title, a cheque for €500,000 and move to sixth in the Ryder Cup race.
But the real champion was Killarney which must now be odds on to host the tournament again next year.
Shrugging off the 35th second place finish of his career, Harrington was only looking at the positives for himself and an event that was close to extinction a few years ago.
Now less than €55,000 outside the nine automatic Ryder Cup places, Harrington said: “I think the Killeen Course here in Killarney has been fantastic. As much as Ross Fisher is the winner this week, the golf course is the real winner.
“I think they got it spot on this week. The scoring was ideal with plenty of birdies and plenty of excitement.
“I’m not disappointed. At the end of the day, I think Ross Fisher deserved to win this tournament. He played great golf; going out as the leader and shooting 65, that’s a winning week for him.
“I’m sure I’ll go to sleep thinking I could have holed a few more putts or done one or two more things.
“But going into the next two weeks, I’ll just keep doing what I’ve been doing all year, keep working on it and just try a little bit to let it happen a bit more.”
Nearly 26,000 fans turned up to watch triple major winner Harrington put on a final round show and he didn’t disappoint as he blasted an eagle and five birdies to make Fisher wriggle on the hook..
Three shots behind the big-hitting Englishman starting the day, the Dubliner roared right into the mix as he birdied four of his first eight holes to grab a share of the lead on 13 under par.
After a slow start, Fisher eagled the seventh to snatch top spot right back and while he birdied the ninth and 10th to go three clear of Harrington, Chris Wood and Spain’s Gonzalo Fernandez Castaño, there was still huge drama to come.
Harrington’s short game had been incredible all week and after a brave flop shot to seven feet helped him save an unlikely par on the sixth, he produced the par save of his life at the par-four 12th to keep his title charge going.
Plugged in a bunker short of the green - he’d practiced the shot at a corporate outing last week - he blasted out to seven feet and drained the putt to keep Fisher in his sights.
Still three behind the Englishman, Harrington then birdied the 15th from 15 feet to heap the pressure on his rival and drew level when he brilliantly eagled the par-five 16th thanks to a rocket-like 202-yard five iron that stopped 12 feet from the stick.
But Fisher refused to wobble and with the experienced Phil “Wobbly” Morbey on his bag, he opted for a three-wood off the 15th tee and hit a brilliant approach to five feet for birdie to move a shot in front again.
A two-putt birdie at the 16th - his first there all week - put the Ascot ace two in front.
But he confessed that it was a close run thing as he hung on to save par at the 17th from six feet and played safe at the last claim the title.
Fisher said: “I knew Paddy was obviously making birdies out there, but I didn’t realise that he had eagled 16.
“It was coming at a time where I had given myself a good opportunity on the previous hole and slid by and I had not actually played 15 particularly well all week.
“I’ve hit driver the first three days and haven’t found the fairway, and so I was fortunate that ‘Wobs’ said to me, I think you can just hit three-wood on the same line, hit it up the fairway and hit to four or five feet, and that kind of settled me down.”
Fisher revealed that missing the fairway bunkers on the par-five 16th for the first time all week was huge.
He said: “That was one place I didn’t want to go today. To finally make a birdie there and to open up a gap was crucial.”
Harrington could have turned the screw a little more at the 17th, where he hit an incredible shot to eight feet from deep rough.
But the putt slipped by and when Fisher avoided a three-putt bogey at the 17th, the game was up.
Fisher said: “It feels great to come out on top from such a world class field. This is what we play for; to give ourselves the chance of winning golf tournaments and I’m no different.
“I knew Pádraig was making a move so that par putt on 17 was huge to give me a two-shot cushion. From there I just played a five iron off the tee at the last and a nice six iron onto the green.
“It feels absolutely great. I’ve come close in Ireland a couple of times, and to get it done in front of obviously record crowds and to beat Paddy obviously fighting all the way, I’ll definitely treasure this for a long time.”
Harrington earned €330,330 to move to 10th in the race for nine automatic Ryder Cup places with the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the US PGA to come over the next fortnight.
He said: “I have no complaints as I went out there with a 65 in mind but fair play to Ross he has done very well; that was a hell of a score when everyone else was chasing him.
“I’m happy with my form at the moment. My short game has been great and the long game worked today. I just need to let it happen more often on the golf course.
“I won’t go away from here thinking I’ve lost a tournament, Ross has won this well.”