G-Mac off his greens

Graeme McDowell. Picture: Thos Caffrey / www.golffile.ie

Graeme McDowell went right off his greens as ice cool Finn Mikko Ilonen cruised to a wire-to-wire Irish Open victory at Fota Island.

A massive 29,387 crowd took the Irish Open attendance to 104,810 for the five days — nearly 11,000 bigger than the flagship BMW PGA at Wentworth.

But even with a huge Irish crowd on his side, McDowell had a nightmare weekend with the putter, missing more than a dozen putts inside 10 feet.

After a level par 71 left him three behind Ilonen in tied sixth, G-Mac groaned: “I'm trying not to think about the winning score right now. 

“It’s very frustrating, no doubt about it. It was there for the taking this weekend.

"But that's golf, and these greens didn't offer up a huge amount of putts and I suffered more than most.

"You just got to suck it up and learn from it — there’s winners and losers and it just didn't happen for me.

“I'd love to have given these fans what they really wanted, an Irish winner this week. But you know what, I gave it 110 per cent.

“The hole started to shrink as I started to look deep inside my technique, my reading of the greens and my speed.”

Looking forward to challenging for his first Irish Open win at Royal County Down next year, G-Mac said: “The hairs on the back of my arms were standing up coming down 18.

“It was a special opportunity this week but I’ll looking forward to getting back to Northern Ireland next year and going to Royal County Down.

“Portrush was amazing, and I imagine Royal County Down will be pretty amazing, as well.”

Just two behind Ilonen starting the day, McDowell started slowly, birdied the sixth but then missed birdie chances at the 10th and 12th before a bogey at the 15th crushed his title hopes.

But he was still looking on the bright side of his best ever Irish Open performance and targeting a big summer with two majors still to come.

He said: “I'm having a good putting year and it just didn't happen for me this weekend. 

“It's very tough to put my finger on why but positives to take away, my game's in great shape, there’s a a big summer ahead and there will be more opportunities.”

Michael Hoey was the next best of the Irish in tied eighth on nine under after a sizzling 66 with Pádraig Harrington and Gareth Maybin five behind Ilonen in joint 14th.

It was a walk in the park in the end for 1999 West of Ireland Amateur Open winner Ilonen, 34, as the Irish challenge failed to materialise.

Two clear of clubhouse leader Edoardo Molinari playing the 18th, he hit a three-iron into the trees but it didn't faze him.

After hacking out, he eventually two-putted for a bogey six and a one-shot win over the Italian, carding a 70 to finish on 13 under par for his fourth European Tour win, a cheque for €333,330 and a probably move into the world's Top 50.

Inspired by Martin Kaymer’s wire-to-wire win in the US Open, Ilonen said: “I can only imagine what he was going through, leading my a zillion shots going into the weekend.

“I didn't have to do much today to be honest.  I was a little surprised.  

"When I got those early birdies on two and four I was seeing the same numbers on the board. 

“I played good enough to score well today, so all I needed to do was two-putt from everywhere really.”

A massive fan of Ireland, Ilonen added: “I can’t wait to get back here for the Open at Portrush in 2019. I really get along with the people here. 

“I made friends with my Pro-Am partners and I just like it here. You can’t say that everywhere, but I just like Ireland.”