Daan Huizing with the Northern Ireland Open Challenge Trophy. Pictiure © Press Eye BelfastDaan Huizing confirmed his reputation as one of European golf’s hottest talents with a brilliant play-off win over former Ryder Cup player Oliver Wilson at the Northern Ireland Open Challenge presented by Clannah and XJET, writes the European Challenge Tour.

Having begun the final round with a six shot lead, and having performed magnificently for the first three rounds, the tournament looked to be a forgone conclusion but Huizing struggled in the swirling winds at Galgorm Castle Golf Club, dropping four strokes on the front nine to allow Wilson and a host of other players back into the tournament.

As the leaders reached the turn, Huizing found himself in a four way tie for the lead with Wilson, James Heath, and Jamie McLeary but he rediscovered the smooth rhythm that had served him so well for the first 54 holes to pick up birdies on the 12th and 14th holes to move to clear of the pack.

But the drama was nowhere near over as Wilson birdied the 17th to get within one of Huizing and set the clubhouse target of 13 under par, with McLeary and Heath finishing the day on 12 under.

A par five at the last would have been good enough to give Huizing the prize but he lost his drive in the thick rough and was forced to play his provisional ball from the middle of the fair way. Huizing’s fourth shot was 40 yards short of the green leaving him needing an up and down to secure a play-off.

With the adrenaline pumping, and a crowd of over 8,000 people surrounding the 18th, he hit a poor pitch and left himself a 25 foot putt to keep his hopes alive.

“I suppose at that moment I proved how much I really wanted this victory,” said Huizing. “I hit a really good putt and once I had made it I knew I still had a chance.”

A perfect drive at the first extra hole put the Dutchman in pole position as Wilson found the bunker off the tee. But the English played a fine second from the sand, leaving himself 50 yards short of the green in two, while Huizing found the putting surface in two with a fine three wood approach.

Wilson’s chip stopped ten feet short before Huizing rushed his eagle chance eight feet past the hole.

“I was pretty sure that he was going to make his putt so I kind of felt I had to make mine. When he missed I just knew that was the moment for me and thankfully I managed to ignore the shakes and make a good stroke and get the ball on line.

“This has just been an amazing week. The tournament has been great and to play in front of so many people was really cool. Playing in front of crowds like this makes the win even more special, and hopefully I can keep playing well and win a card for The European Tour next year.”

Daan Huizing from the Netherlands is presented with the trophy by Arlene Foster, Northern Ireland Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, after winning the inaugural Northern Ireland Open at Galgorm Castle Golf Club. Picture © PressEye)Huizing is certainly in position to do that. His victory, worth €27,500, propelled him to sixth place in the Rankings, with the top 15 players winning European Tour cards at the end of the season.

Home favourite Dermot McElroy bookended his week with a pair of fine 67s and his final round effort moved the Ballymena amateur up 27 places into a tie for ninth on six-under 278. He finished top amateur and joint top Irish player alongside Clandeboye’s Jonathan Caldwell, who signed off with a 70 to earn almost €4,000.

In typical laidback fashion, McElroy played down his performance. “I couldn’t get it going all week. It was my chipping that really kept me in it and my putting was very good today,” said the 20-year-old, who plans to take a break before focusing on Tour School later this month.

Caldwell made the most of a rare outing on the Challenge Tour. “I enjoyed it out there. There was no real secret, I just kept out of my own way and played steady,” said the 29-year-old, who will play the remainder of the PGA EuroPro season rather than go to the first stage of Tour School.  

Despite having a great start to the week Gareth Shaw’s effort ran out of steam. The Galgorm Castle Touring Professional closed with a 75 to finish well off the pace on five-over.

Crowds of 8,369 came through the gates for the final day, giving an impressive total of just under 21,000 for the week, by far the biggest attendance on the Challenge Tour this season. All week players heaped praise on the tournament, including established names such as Nick Dougherty and Wilson.

“This is the best Challenge Tour event I have played. Simple as that,” said Wilson. “From the moment you drive in the gates here at Galgorm you just get the sense that there is an event on. Everything you would expect from a Tour event is here, from the tented village to hospitality and the most important thing of all – good crowds.”

Dougherty added: “This tournament has been great. It feels like a step-up from the usual events on the Challenge Tour. To have such big crowds in has been amazing and I was lucky enough to have a lot of people following me round and it felt like being at a main Tour event.  

MICHAEL HOEY may have bowed out earlier than he had wished for but his role as Tournament Ambassador was just as important as anything he did with his clubs this week.

“Obviously I’m a little disappointed how it went in terms of playing,” said Hoey, who despite missing the halfway cut spent time at Galgorm on Saturday, visiting Junior Golf Ireland and carrying out other commitments as the figurehead for the tournament.

“I really wanted to peak and play well for the thousands of spectators who came out to watch but I guess my golf wasn’t the most important thing this week. My role as ambassador was more about helping to promote the tournament, which has been a great success.

“So many of the players this week have commented on how this has been the best Challenge Tour event they have played in.”

Organisers will look to build on this year’s event and Hoey would be delighted to be involved again in 2014 and believes if the scheduling works then next year’s event could attract an even stronger field.

“Obviously the Irish Open is a massive event. It will be played down south again next year so there is no reason not to have another high profile event in Northern Ireland, two strong events to complement each other,” added the five-time European Tour winner, who believes the Galgorm showpiece has the potential to become a co-sanctioned event.      

“If this event gets the right slot on the schedule there is the potential to attract players like Gareth Maybin, Peter Lawrie or Damien McGrane. Players like Simon Dyson and Robert Rock played the St Omer Open this year (the co-sanctioned event which Simon Thornton won), so potentially they are the type of players who could play here.”  

“There could be a few weeks available after the Open, maybe the week of the Bridgestone Invitational. Obviously it would be difficult to get the likes of Rory (McIlroy) and Graeme (McDowell) but that could be a good time to play the event.”

For now though, all attentions were on Huizing who celebrated winning the inaugural Northern Ireland Open after a dramatic final day at Galgorm.

Northern Ireland Open Challenge, Galgorm Castle GC (par 71)

271 D Huizing (Ned) 65 66 66 74, O Wilson (Eng) 66 70 68 67 (Huizing won with a birdie at the 1st extra hole)

272 J McLeary (Sco) 66 75 65 66, J Heath (Eng) 67 71 65 69,

273 B Ritthammer (Ger) 64 71 68 70,

275 A Johnston (Eng) 66 73 69 67, J Dantorp (Swe) 65 69 69 72,

276 M Armitage (Eng) 70 65 71 70,

278 D Stewart (Sco) 70 66 72 70, M Ford (Eng) 71 69 68 70, J Caldwell (Nir) 68 69 71 70, N Lemke (Swe) 70 69 67 72, J Carlsson (Swe) 68 69 72 69, D Vancsik (Arg) 69 70 69 70, T Pilkadaris (Aus) 66 71 72 69, D McElroy (am) (Nir) 67 70 74 67,

279 R Kakko (Fin) 70 70 69 70, M Murphy (Irl) 72 69 69 69, M Crespi (Ita) 67 69 72 71, G Houston (Wal) 67 69 72 71,

280 J Barnes (Eng) 68 73 68 71, R McGowan (Eng) 65 69 76 70, T Nørret (Den) 66 75 68 71, B Hebert (Fra) 67 69 75 69, T Hatton (Eng) 67 72 70 71,

281 J Guerrier (Fra) 68 70 71 72, P Widegren (Swe) 67 72 68 74, A McArthur (Sco) 65 70 72 74, R Steiner (Aut) 71 70 72 68, G Murray (Sco) 67 72 73 69, L Goddard (Eng) 69 71 69 72,

282 J Mikkelsen (Nor) 69 69 71 73, C Russo (Fra) 67 71 73 71,

283 M Glauert (Ger) 70 69 70 74, S Walker (Eng) 71 70 64 78, N Ravano (Ita) 71 70 70 72, B An (Kor) 68 71 73 71, J Ruth (Eng) 64 71 75 73, M McGeady (Irl) 65 72 74 72,

284 F Calmels (Fra) 69 71 72 72, R McGee (Irl) 70 70 71 73, S Tiley (Eng) 70 71 72 71,

285 D Im (USA) 67 69 76 73, N Kearney (Irl) 69 71 73 72, E Dubois (Fra) 72 69 71 73, D Griffiths (Eng) 68 73 73 71,

286 P Archer (Eng) 69 72 74 71, S Kim (Kor) 69 71 72 74, J Senior (Eng) 68 73 71 74,

287 D Perrier (Fra) 68 70 74 75, P Dwyer (Eng) 70 71 75 71, V Riu (Fra) 70 70 73 74,

288 G Stal (Fra) 68 73 69 78, A Bernadet (Fra) 71 70 70 77, N Dougherty (Eng) 66 73 73 76, H Joannes (Bel) 71 68 73 76,

289 N O’Briain (Irl) 67 70 72 80, G Shaw (Nir) 68 72 74 75, J Garcia Pinto (Esp) 70 71 72 76,

290 H Porteous (RSA) 68 70 72 80,

291 B Parker (Eng) 68 71 71 81,

293 J Lima (Por) 70 70 74 79,

295 R Whitson (am) (Nir) 71 69 72 83,