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May 26, 2015

Mikko Ilonen


Q.テつ Last year, wire‑to‑wire win, must have been really satisfying?
MIKKO ILONEN:テつ It was.テつ I was trying to hang onto that lead after Friday, and was about to lose it on Saturday, but I got it back on the last birdie on the last hole to lead by one going into the last round.テつ So for me it was huge on Saturday to birdie that last hole and gave me a lot of confidence going into Sunday.テつ And holding onto that lead, all the way to Sunday late, it was like just repeating what I just did on Friday and Saturday before.テつ So almost got used to it.

Q.テつ The only blemish was on the last hole?
MIKKO ILONEN:テつ Yeah, I hit it in the trees with a 3‑iron and had to sort of take a couple of lay‑ups there.テつ The second shot there was actually really good.テつ Just got wrapped around a little tree there on the last of the fairway.
But I think it was lucky in one way that the second shot didn't get any further because then I would have been texted to go for it from there.テつ Now it's just chip out, leave myself, whatever, 75 metres and just hit to the middle of the green and 2‑putt.テつ So I knew that I had a little bit of cushion to play with, so no problem.

Q.テつ And how did you feel getting your name on that trophy, because there was a lot of fun elements with the photos afterwards.
MIKKO ILONEN:テつ Yeah, it was a good photo shoot actually and it's the biggest prize giving, for me for sure to have that many people around.テつ The photo shoot was fun and looking at that trophy now, sitting at home, it's some big names in there and good to have your own amongst them.

Q.テつ What's it like playing in front of these Irish crowds?
MIKKO ILONEN:テつ Well, they are probably the most knowledgeable crowds they are, so doesn't really get any better than that.
The best thing coming back to Ireland every year is the crowds.テつ I know all the players, caddies, whoever is part of the tournament, they always tell about the atmosphere in The Irish Open.テつ It doesn't really get much better than that.

Q.テつ And were you looking forward to coming back to RCD, because you played here as an amateur?
MIKKO ILONEN:テつ I played in '99.テつ We played the Amateur, and as far as I remember, I don't think I got into the Match Play stage, and I missed the cut in the stroke play.テつ But, I remember watching the final.テつ So I must have hang around and watch some of the golf and practise myself somewhere here, but I can't remember much.
But I do remember taking a photo of Graeme Storm on the last hole when he won it.テつ I think he won by big numbers, 8 & 7 or something similar to that.テつ He gave me approval to take a photo close by when he hit his approach shot to the last hole they played.

Q.テつ And you played nine holes this morning; what did you make of the course today?
MIKKO ILONEN:テつ I only remember a couple of holes.テつ The greens were smaller than I remember.テつ They were rather helmet‑shaped like on the last couple holes on the back nine, 7 and 8, for example, they were really small targets and you have to be spot on, otherwise you would be putting from a different kind of galleys and alleys.
It will be very interesting because it seems like the prevailing wind is sort of across the course, so you have a lot of crosswinds on the course.テつ And if you're coming to a small target, you'll be relying on your short game a lot.テつ But it seemed like there's a lot of short game shots where you're using putter if it doesn't get too far away from the green.テつ It will be interesting, I'm sure, and it's not going to be easy.

Q.テつ How do you feel coming back to an Irish Open as the defending champion?
MIKKO ILONEN:テつ It feels good, because a lot of people are welcoming me back here.テつ Obviously I have good memories from way past winning an amateur tournament here in the late 90s and winning The Irish Open last year.
It's nice to be back here, whether you're defending or not.テつ But I'm a lucky one this week to have that trophy in my hands still another couple of days.

Q.テつ Last year at Fota Island, what's the stand out memory for you there?
MIKKO ILONEN:テつ Probably the crowds.テつ I didn't realise how many there was before I looked back on the 18th green.テつ I think most of the people were sort of hiding somewhere in the bushes before the last couple of holes because I really didn't notice them that much.テつ But of course, I could hear them all the time.テつ But for me looking back on that 18th fairway, I could feel a little bit from the green, it was like, okay, thank you very much, thanks for coming.

Q.テつ And in terms of playing here, obviously winning in your amateur days, how has the place changed and what might you remember?
MIKKO ILONEN:テつ I don't remember much to be honest.テつ We played the Amateur here in '99 when Graeme Storm won.テつ I do remember a few holes, and I've played nine holes so far.テつ What surprised me that the targets on some of the greens are really small, especially when playing crosswinds all the way.テつ As I said, only playing nine holes, it was all crosswinds, and that will make it really difficult.テつ I think if we get a little bit of weather, if it gets wet, it will be definitely a big challenge for everybody.

Q.テつ How do you feel the game is set up for the much more linksy challenge of Royal County Down?
MIKKO ILONEN:テつ I like it.テつ We've always said amongst the players and the caddies that whenever we come to a links, everybody says, oh, we should play more links.テつ And so right now, it's good to see that Scottish Open and of course we have the Dunhill Links and The Open Championship, but Irish Open I think should be on links.テつ Obviously there's a lot of great courses in the country, so I understand that it has to go around and should go around.テつ But throw a links course there every other year, I think it should be done.

Q.テつ Besides confidence of being defending champion, how sharp is the game and how mentally sharp are you coming into this?
MIKKO ILONEN:テつ Well, I sort of get into spells, five, six, nine holes, where I've played really good.テつ And then I lose the momentum on just like three, four holes, and I don't get much going.
So I need a good spell of holes a couple of days where I can get some going.テつ Get a couple of good scores in there.テつ I think just I need to build on little things and to be able to build on my confidence a little bit more.
So it's been quiet times for the last month, but I don't think it's that far away.テつ As we all know, just have to keep knocking on that door.

Q.テつ What does it say about this event and how The Irish Open has grown when you look at the strength of field gathered here this week?
MIKKO ILONEN:テつ It's great what Rory's done.テつ Rory has obviously had a huge impact on the field.テつ He's got a couple of bigger names alongside him to come this year, and I think the Irish players are definitely the factor to keep this tournament what it is now, because they all are big names, anyway.テつ So they need to keep supporting this event as they have been in the past.テつ It's the key for this tournament, and they are going to drag the other names here, as well.
We all love coming here.テつ The crowds are the best.テつ It doesn't get much better than this, what we are going to experience this week.テつ So it doesn't need to be a $5 billion tournament.テつ It just needs a good atmosphere, and everybody is going to enjoy the week.

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