By Brian Keogh
Luke Donnelly’s dream of winning his European Tour card was scuppered before the start by a freak accident but West Waterford’s Gary Hurley and Tramore’s Robin Dawson made promising starts at the Second Stage in Spain.
Kilkenny talent Donnelly, 21, suffered a badly bruised ankle and severe swelling when he slipped on the steps of his apartment on the eve of his qualifier at Desert Springs in Almería and was forced to withdraw after spending the evening in hospital.
“I’m absolutely devastated to be forced to withdraw,” said Donnelly, who shot a 10-under 62 en route to third place in his First Stage qualifier in Bristol in September.
“I fell going back to my apartment and spent yesterday evening in A&E.
“I felt very confident heading into this week, but these things happen.
West Waterford star Hurley made six birdies in a five-under 67 to share third place at Desert Springs, two shots behind Australia’s Deyen Lawson, as his former Walker Cup teammate Gavin Moynihan (24) posted a two-under 70 to lie tied 17th.
Clandeboye’s Jonathan Caldwell shot 74 and Waterford Castle’s Kevin Phelan double-bogeyed his final hole for a three-over 75.
But there was better news at El Encín Hotel near Madrid where Ardglass talent Cormac Sharvin, another former Walker Cup player, opened with a four-under 68 to share 14th spot.
Dawson birdied two of his five holes at the same venue to post a 70 and share 28th on two-under with Old Conna’s Neil O’Brien in the race to make the 156-strong field that will bid for cards at next week’s Final Stage at Lumine Golf Club in Tarragona.
Approximately 18 to 20 players will progress from each of the four Second Stage venues which leaves Ruaidhrí McGee (71) and Cameron Raymond (74) with work to do at Las Colinas in Alicante while Naas’ Conor O’Rourke is tied 43rd after a level par 72 at nearby Alenda Golf.
The players who make the Final Stage must play two rounds each at the Lakes and Hills Courses at Lumine with the top 70 and ties then playing two further rounds with the leading 25 and ties after two further rounds earning European Tour cards.
All those who make the cut at the Final Stage but fail to make the top 25 and ties are awarded Challenge Tour status.