amateur golf
Dateline London:
amateur golf

The British Amateur Championship
Report: Final Day of Knockout
At Royal Liverpool GC
Colin Callander, Special Correspondent

Mikko Ilonen created a major slice of history yesterday (Saturday) when he left Hoylake as the first Finnish golfer ever to win The Amateur Championship.

Ilonen, 20, from Lahti, 110 kilometres north east of Helsinki, defeated Germany’s Christian Reimbold 2 & 1 in the first final contested between two golfers from continental Europe and so becomes just the sixth continental European to win the world’s oldest national amateur title.

The Finn followed in the footsteps of previous Continental winners, France’s Philippe Ploujoux, Spain’s Jose Maria Olazabal, Sweden’s Christian Hardin, Holland’s Rolf Muntz and Spain’s Sergio Garcia after but not without having to withstand several anxious moments in a final marred, to a certain extent at least, by the almost funereal pace of play. In far from inclement conditions, the two contestants took more than four hours to complete their first round and a further four hours and 15 minutes had elapsed in the afternoon when Ilonen finally despatched his German opponent on the 35th green.

The Finn, who is the current holder of his national title, and who finished second behind Australia’s Kim Felton in the individual event at the 1998 World Amateur Team Championship in Chile, was well in charge in the early stages of the morning’s round before losing all of the last three holes to go into lunch all square and it was a similar story in the afternoon when he made the early running but then floundered when victory was in sight.

Ilonen won three out of the first four holes in an afternoon round watched by upwards of 1500 spectators. The Finn did lose the 23rd,  the 27th  and the 29th,  but retained his three-hole advantage when Reimbold conceded the par-3 25th after hitting his tee shot through the green, lost the 413-yard 28th to a par and then conceded the 455-yard par-4 30th when he lost his ball from the tee. Thereafter, the two competitors halved the next two holes before Ilonen conceded the 33rd after driving into the rough, missing the green in two and then failing to get down in four. He lost further ground when Reimbold birdied the par-5 34th hole but sealed victory, not to mention a place in both The Open and The Masters, with a regulation par-4 on the 35th.

“I’m exhausted a relieved,” he said moments before collecting the trophy. “This means a lot to me and a lot to Finnish golf, too, because we’ve never had a player in a major before.

“Now, I’ve got so much to look forward to. To be honest, I can hardly believe it.”