Barry O’Leary kept his overnight lead to clinch the Irish Seniors Close Championship at Kilkenny Golf Club, closing with a round of 72 to win by two shots.
The Greystones player, 65, held his nerve on the back nine to stay clear of Ballybunion’s Peter Sheehan.
O’Leary made nine straight pars to withstand Sheehan’s charge, taking the title with two strokes to spare on minus one.
“It’s tremendous,” O’Leary reflected. “I’ve been playing these [seniors] events for 10 years. I’ve had two seconds and a third up to now. I’m thrilled to bits.”
Four strokes clear going into the final day, O’Leary’s lead quickly diminished. A triple bogey at the third halved his advantage but he withstood that early wobble to keep his closest challengers at bay.
Birdies at five and six for the leader repaired most of the damage although his clubmate Alan Condren ramped up the pressure by birdieing the fourth. At that point, O’Leary only led by one.
“I was still in the lead and that was the important thing,” said O’Leary.
His quest for the title received a major boost at the ninth when he holed a pitch shot from 60 yards.
That birdie moved O’Leary two clear of Condren at the turn but Sheehan made his bid for victory on the homeward stretch.
At the 12th, Sheehan struck for eagle by holing a putt from 50 feet. Condren faltered, dropping three shots in four holes, and Sheehan also stumbled with bogeys at 14 and 15.
Ever steady, O’Leary made one par after another. With three holes left, his lead had stretched to four although Sheehan challenged once more.
The Ballybunion player made birdies at 16 and 18 to close the gap but a closing par for O’Leary ensured the trophy went to the long-time leader.
“I was quite nervous,” O’Leary conceded. “I feel a mixture of joy and relief but I’m over the moon.”
Victory marked O’Leary’s maiden championship win at Seniors level and his success at the Close meant that he collected the Maurice Kelly Trophy for the first time. Kelly, who won this championship for a fifth time in 2018 at Enniscrone, passed away last December.
The age categories winner were: Doneraile’s Steven Graham (55-59); Tramore’s John Mitchell (60-64), Cork’s Tom Cleary (65-69), Cork’s Peter Cowley (70+).