Golf Comment: Match Play title may be just the start for Ilonen the dark horse

 
Sam Torrance
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Mikko Ilonen beat fellow Scandinavian Henrik Stenson to the World Match Play crown
HE DOESN’T always get the praise he deserves but I thought Mikko Ilonen was magnificent in winning the World Match Play title at the London Club in Kent last week.

The Finn had to overcome a really tough opponent in Henrik Stenson in Sunday’s final but did so with a very impressive victory to claim his second European Tour title of the season.

There was a lot of high quality golf played over the five days of competition, and although the final was not the highlight it was still a very good performance.

Ilonen’s triumph lifts him back into the world’s top 50 to a career-high ranking of 37, underlining his reputation as a player on the up and cementing his place at all the Majors and WGC events.

His other triumph of 2014 came at the Irish Open at Fota Island in June, when I remember thinking what an underrated performer he is, with excellent technique and a very good short game.

While he has been a professional for 13 years already, Ilonen is still just 34, so there is loads of time for him to continue this improvement and go to the next level.

Overcoming a high-class field last week is an excellent start and surely only likely to increase the self-belief that he will need to maintain his upward trajectory.

Stenson, meanwhile, may be wondering exactly what more he has to do in order to win a title. The man who swept all before him last year is still trophyless in 2014, though it’s not a reflection of his form.

The Swede remains in the world’s top five following a steady stream of good displays, though he has always seemed to come up against someone playing slightly better.

Sometimes you get years like that, and it was always going to be extremely difficult to follow his superb last season, but there is no doubting Stenson’s class.

Congratulations to Ben Martin, who claimed his maiden PGA Tour title on Sunday in Las Vegas at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.

It was a superb finish from the 27-year-old, who holed an eagle at the par-five 16th and closed with a birdie to hold off the challenge of Kevin Streelman, Webb Simpson and Scotland’s Russell Knox, who put in a great performance to end up third.

Victory earned Martin his tour card until the end of the 2016-17 season and a place at next year’s Masters. He’s obviously got talent and is one to watch in future.

Sam Torrance OBE is a multiple Ryder Cup-winning golfer and media commentator. Follow him on Twitter @torrancesam

PROFILE: MIKKO ILONEN

■ Born in December 1979, Ilonen won the Amateur Championship at Royal Liverpool at the age of 20 and turned professional the following year

■ It wasn’t until 2007 that he won his first European Tour title, the Indonesia Open, but another followed months later at the Scandinavian Masters

■ Ilonen then went until June 2013 without a further victory but has now landed three European Tour titles in less than 18 months