After his Ryder Cup heroics Rory McIlroy might have expected similar success at Sunday’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. However he, along with the rest of the field and the onlooking crowd, were surprised by the unanticipated victory of world number 792 Oliver Wilson, who won the tournament by a stroke to take home his first European title.
Proving consistency to be key, Wilson matched a strong start with a steady hand as he carried his early advantage through to take the win. Beginning in fine form, Wilson scored 64 in the first round, five strokes fewer than eventual joint-runners up Tommy Fleetwood and Richie Ramsay and a full nine fewer than Rory McIlroy, who also finished joint-second. Though the first round was the only round Wilson won outright, he maintained solid form throughout to hold off the approaches of his competitors. A resurgent McIlroy, who outperformed Wilson in each of the three subsequent rounds, was unable to recover from his opening tally of 73, which included a double-bogey on the opening hole. Coming back impressively, he levelled with leader Wilson down the back nine before an unfortunate putt on the 17th, which cleared the green and nestled in the adjacent Road Hole Bunker left him with a bogey, again relinquishing the advantage to Wilson. Allowing Wilson to regain control, he matched McIlroy on the final hole to leave the world number one trailing him by a stroke.
It was Fleetwood who might have proved the most potent challenger. As the final hole drew to a close he had the opportunity to take the Championship to a play-off, with a 10-foot putt on the 18th hole giving him a potential birdie to level his score with Wilson’s. Fleetwood’s effort, though, went narrowly wide of the hole, handing Wilson the win.
For Wilson his Dunhill Links title constitutes a comeback of sizeable proportions. After turning professional in 2003, the result of his membership in Great Britain and Ireland’s victorious Walker Cup team, he found various successes. In 2008 he was included in the European squad for the 2008 Ryder Cup, and alongside teammate Henrik Stenson recovered from a four stroke deficit to overcome Anthony Kim and American golfing legend Phil Mickelson in the second day foursomes. In the same year he came second in the PGA Championship, and in 2009 he again finished runner-up in both the HSBC Champions and the familiar Alfred Dunhill Links Championships, finishing the year with a career-high world ranking of 45. In the subsequent years, though, Wilson’s inconsistent form led to him falling through the rankings, even going as far as having his European Tour card revoked in 2012; he required a special invitation to compete at St Andrews on Sunday and thanked his inviter for the opportunity that led to his now-famous victory. Reinvigorated, Wilson might now rediscover his previous good form and climb back towards the top of golf’s rankings.
His first European title does also brings to an end a record Wilson aims to remain with him; despite his years in the wilderness, Wilson had held the record for most prize money accrued without a European Tour victory.
Wilson’s admirable recovery, rediscovering the form that had in recent years eluded him, is an encouraging and satisfying underdog story, and provided the opportunity for his colleagues and competitors to demonstrate their own sportsmanship. Appearing genuinely enthused by Wilson’s win, Rory McIlroy tweeted that he was happy to “finish second to [Wilson] this week” and that Wilson’s determined performance meant his win was “well deserved”. Ian Poulter, a hero of British golf, too celebrated Wilson “keeping the faith” on his “long road back”, taking to Twitter to state “how happy every player on the tour will be”.
A reminder of the quality throughout golf, Wilson’s story demonstrates how fortitude and resolve might pay off even at the highest level, with a deserved first European title celebrated by victor and competitors alike.
What steps might Wilson take to improve his chances for further success?