Munich Eichenried : Nick Dougherty played some of the most inspired golf of his life to claim the title at the BMW International Open in Munich yesterday before raising his hand to the heavens in tribute to his mother, Ennis, who died a little over a year ago.
Too often in the past, the popular 27-year-old Englishman has found demons sitting on his shoulder when he has come within touching distance of victory. And yesterday, they surpassed themselves by allowing him to think that he could cruise to victory on the back of a four-shot lead with three holes to play before suddenly reducing it to one stroke in the most outrageous fashion.
Soon after sinking his ninth birdie putt of the day from off the green at the 15th, Dougherty was preparing to enjoy a victory stroll over the final three holes. He had already done the hard work, making up a three-shot deficit to Retief Goosen at the start of the day, only to be greeted by the roars sweeping back towards him from the 18th, where Rafa Echenique, of Argentina, had landed that rarest of golfing birds, an albatross two.
It was the shot of the week, the perfect ending to a quite stunning back nine by the 28-year-old Argentinian, who went out in 35 and came home in 27 in a half that also included an eagle and four birdies. The three-iron shot to a pin 243 yards away looked good from the moment it left the club. It landed a few paces short, held its line and disappeared into the hole like a frightened rabbit.
In one swoop, Dougherty’s lead had been cut to the slenderest margin. But he, too, has been in outstanding form and he was not about to let his third victory as a professional slip from his grasp this time, as he did at the Wales Open this month.
So when he came to the par-five final hole still leading by one, he chose to play safe. The hole had cost him dear in his earlier rounds, so this time he took a three wood off the tee, laid up short of the green with his second, pitched on and took two putts for a round of 64 in a 22-under-par total of 266. The win brought him a princely £280,000 first prize and entry into the Open Championship at Turnberry next month.
“To shoot 64 and hold off two major champions in Retief and Bernhard [Langer, his playing partners] was pretty special,” Dougherty said. “And then to fend off Rafa, I’m delighted. Without a doubt that was my best win. But the 18th was the worst I’ve ever felt playing a hole in my life. I was very nervous hitting that tee shot.”
Dougherty admits that his game fell apart after his mother died. But he has gradually got back into the swing of things and yesterday looked once more like one of the best players in Europe. “I just hope that the strength of my mum lives on in what I did today,” he said. “But all credit to Rafa for pushing me all the way.”