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Late birdie flourish gives Donaldson first European title at Irish Open

CBSSports.com wire reports

PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland -- Jamie Donaldson of Wales won his first European Tour title by shooting a 6-under 66 to secure a four-stroke victory at the Irish Open on Sunday, ending an 11-year drought in his 255th tournament.

Beginning the fourth round with a one-shot lead, Donaldson birdied five of his last seven holes to shoot a fourth consecutive round in the 60s and finish clear of playing partner Anthony Wall (69), Rafael Cabrera-Bello (66) and Fabrizio Zanotti (66).

Donaldson's total of 18-under 270 on the Royal Portrush links course in County Antrim earned him $420,000.

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"It feels a bit surreal to be honest," said Donaldson, who topped a strong field that included home favorites Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Padraig Harrington.

"I didn't look at the leaderboard all day. I just felt really good out there. It's just been a case of keeping going. I knew that what I was doing was right."

On a day of low scoring in still conditions, the No. 2-ranked McIlroy shot a blemish-free 67 to place tied for 10th, a shot behind Harrington (70) and one clear of McDowell (66).

Former U.S. Open champion McIlroy had missed the cut at four of his previous five holes but played better on his return to Northern Ireland, three weeks before the British Open begins at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

"Tee to green it was a big improvement," McIlroy said. "That's what I've been working on and maybe neglecting my short game. I've just got to get that sharp now and prepare for The Open."

Mikael Lundberg of Sweden shot a 65 for the lowest round of the week, and at one stage was two shots clear of Donaldson -- who had yet to start -- after going through the first 10 holes in 8 under, turning in 29.

However, Lundberg was soon overhauled by the Welshman and then bogeyed Nos. 16 and 18 to finish tied for fifth on 13 under.

"I made a fantastic start -- everything went my way." Lundberg said. "Unfortunately I made two mistakes in the final three holes."

The victory, sealed with a 25-foot birdie on the last, ended a turbulent and highly successful week for Donaldson.

He started it by making the British Open by shooting a round of 62 in qualifying on Monday before parting company with his caddie of five years, James Baker, on Tuesday. Two days later, he made his first ever hole-in-one on tour, helping him finally break his duck on Sunday after 32 top-10 finishes.

"We haven't actually talked about fees," Donaldson said of his new bagman Mick Donaghy. "That could be interesting."

Wall started out alone in second on 11 under but the Englishman's chances of challenging Donaldson evaporated when he made 8 on the par-5 second after going out of bounds.

After recovering well with six birdies in 15 holes, Wall teed off on No. 18 two shots behind Donaldson but ended up making bogey after finding a bunker with his drive.

Cabrera-Bello's placing leaves him in a qualifying position for Europe's Ryder Cup team with only two months of the race to go.

Another sell-out crowd turned out for the fourth consecutive day for what was the event's first edition in Northern Ireland since 1953. The successful staging of the tournament will increase hopes the popular Portrush course could again play host to the British Open for the first time since 1951.

Copyright 2015 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.

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