Sophie Gustafson poses with her trophy in front of Killeen Castle
Sophie Gustafson enhanced her prospects of returning to Killeen Castle next September as part of Europe’s Solheim Cup Team as she won a thrilling AIB Ladies Irish Open.
The Swede, who is a seven-time Solheim Cup player, shot a superb final round 66 on a day of perfect scoring conditions to card 12 under par and edge ahead of Norwegian Marianne Skarpnord and South Korean In-Kyung Kim.
Gustafson showed her class by winning her fourth Irish Open following victories in 1998 at Ballyliffin, 2000 at Faithlegg and 2003 at Killarney. It was her sixth title on Irish soil as she also won the 2003 BT Open in Northern Ireland and the TSN World Cup partnering Carin Koch in 2000.
“I love Ireland. This is my sixth win in Ireland if you count the time I won in Northern Ireland in 2003 and at the World Cup in 2000,” said a delighted Gustafson. “I think maybe it’s the people. They are all very friendly and easy going and they have always been very supportive of me.”
The €75,000 first prize is Gustafson’s first winner’s cheque since the Comunitat Valenciana European Nations Cup, which she won in April partnering Anna Nordqvist. Her win helped her bid to make Alison Nicholas’ 2011 team to take on the United States.
When asked what she thought of The 2011 Solheim Cup venue, the 36-year-old said: “I think my win pretty much says it all: that I like it! I expect to play my way onto the team.”
The 15,000 spectators that attended on the final day would have been impressed as they saw the drama unfold on the course that will host The Solheim Cup from 23-25 September, 2011.
Playing in the penultimate group ahead of the second round leader, Kim, Gustafson played a wedge from 130 yards to 10 feet at the par four closing hole in front of a packed gallery and rolled the ball straight down the hill into the hole to edge one shot clear.
Kim had a chance to enter a playoff, but her long birdie putt on 18 finished just below the hole and she finished with a round of 70. Skarpnord, twice a winner on the Ladies European Tour, fired a 69.
“Being able to make that putt was fantastic because I’ve been struggling with my putting, so that was very, very nice,” Gustafson added. “I think I’ve been playing better than my recent results have shown, so that was very pleasing being able to play so well.”
Gustafson started the final round three shots adrift and was out in 34 but picked up the pace after rolling in a short birdie putt on the par-four ninth, which was playing as the toughest hole on the course.
She came back in 32, with an eagle on the par-five 12th hole, where she hit a four-iron to 15 feet and then birdied holes 14 and 18.
There were seven potential European Solheim Cup team members in the top 11 places and two American prospects. England’s Melissa Reid finished in fourth place on 10 under after a final round of 66. Australian Katherine Hull was the exception and fired a 64 to finish fifth.
Sweden’s Anna Nordqvist, who made her Solheim Cup debut in 2009, finished sixth at eight under par, with Brittany Lang, who made her debut on the United States side in 2009, a stroke back in seventh.
Helen Alfredsson of Sweden, who has made eight Solheim Cup appearances as a player and captained the European team in 2007, fired a 67 to share eighth with two-time United States team member Brittany Lincicome (68), 2007 Solheim Cupper Linda Wessberg (74) and Spanish hopeful Azahara Munoz (70). First round leader Maria Hjorth of Sweden (73) finished a stroke back in a five-way tie for 12th.
Rebecca Coakley was the leading Irish player in a tie for 17th place on four under par and 15-year-old Lisa Maguire from Ireland took the Philomena Garvey trophy as the leading amateur in a share of 40th place.