“Special K” Soren Kjeldsen hit a magical three wood to set up a heart-stopping playoff win and end his six-year victory drought in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.
Now he looks set to defend the title at The K Club with the Co Kildare in pole position (there are other venues also queuing up) to host before a return to Northern Ireland at the Lough Erne Resort in 2016.
With Rory McIlroy and his Rory Foundation also expected to remain on board and with sponsors Dubai Duty Free keen to extend their deal, the future looks bright for an event that was dying on its feet just a few years ago.
Host McIlroy said: “From a tournament perspective and a Foundation perspective it really has exceeded expectations.
“I think for the week there was 107,000 people here in spite of the weather not being as good we would have liked.
“The support that this tournament has got from spectators, volunteers, Royal County Down, the sponsors, it has been absolutely incredible.
“It has exceeded expectations in a lot of ways.”
Darren Clarke reckons both The K Club and Lough Erne will be fantastic venues going forward, but Kjeldsen was just happy to win again after a sensational 245-yard three wood to 35 feet set up a two putt birdie at the 18th in sudden death.
Two clear overnight, the 40 year old struggled all day but scrambled to a 76 to match England’s Eddie Pepperell (69) and Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger (73) on two under par to force extra time.
After almost lipping out with a three footer for the win, Kjeldsen said: “I think the last breath I took was on the 14th. I have never been as nervous as this in all of the tournaments I have won.”
Having fallen to 303rd in world from a high of 31st in 2009, Kjeldsen added: “Did I think I would win on tour again? I was hoping. Did I expect it? Probably not.
“My confidence hasn’t been high but low expectations maybe helped and the crowd was unbelievable. I felt almost Northern Irish out there.”
The event will be back north in 2016 but with the Open set for Royal Portrush as soon as 2019, Clarke doesn’t rule an Irish Open return at Royal County Down that year, the week before The Open.
Clarke said: “It would be great if that was the case but 2019 is a long way off and the European Tour have got a very difficult time in terms of scheduling.
“With Rory’s backing, I think it is great to see the tournament getting back up in terms of international recognition.
“The K Club and Lough Erne are both fantastic venues, but when we have a test like this — proper Irish links golf — I would certainly like to continue on playing on an Irish links courses.
“I would take an Irish Open win anywhere, wherever it goes. But with Rory’s involvement, hopefully it will just get better and better.”
Pádraig Harrington does not believe the Irish Open needs to be on a links every year and having won in Adare in 2007 and enjoyed great weeks in Killarney and at Fota Island, he’s happy to mix it up.
Asked about a potential move to The K Club in Straffan, Harrington said: “I like the Irish Open to go to the best venue and sometimes the best venue is a small village in Ireland.
“Killarney was a great venue and so was Fota Island and while I know traditionally that coming to links courses is what people expect of golf in Ireland, for enjoyment it is sometimes nice to go elsewhere.”
The Dubliner admits that the event needs McIlroy, or big money, to keep going at the same level.
He said: “The only way it can succeed on its own is if somebody else comes in so it has got to have some benefactor there pushing it behind the scenes
“If Rory wasn’t here you would need someone else coming in to make it a $6m event. There has to be something there to attract the players and Rory did a tremendous job this year.
“He has brought the tournament to a new level and brought in a sponsor. Even on the PGA Tour they need Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer to push big events forward.”
The K Club is in pole position to get the event next year though the question of a site fee is pending. But with sponsors Dubai Duty Free believed to be happy to extend their deal for another edition and McIlroy
The involvement of the Rory Foundation has yet to be confirmed but Irish Open Championship Director Antonia Beggs sounded confident.
She said: “We have always said that this is the first time and when he dust has settled we will sit down and chat about the future strategy.
“We very much hope that Rory will be involved in the Irish Open in some shape or form next year because he is the world No 1 and he is from Ireland.
“We can’t say any more for now but this isn’t a one-off as such. It’s just the first time we’ve done it so while we can’t say we are doing it for 10 years (with Rory hosting), the feedback has been very positive.”