Four powerful strikers have battled their way through the most demanding of weather conditions to contest this morning’s semi-finals of the AIG Irish Close Championship at Ballybunion.
The great Kerry links once again posed a major challenge as fierce winds swept in off the Atlantic, accompanied early in the day by rain showers.
The championship so far has proved a major triumph for the 23 year-old Galway golfer Ronan Mullarney who enjoyed a six shot lead in the 36 hole qualifying stages, with a total of nine under par, and wasn’t asked any serious questions in the match-play stages until brought the full distance in a splendid quarter-final by a close friend and Connacht Interprovincial team-mate, Sean Flanagan (Co Sligo and Portmarnock).
Mullarney now faces another potential banana skin in the 18 year-old Charlie Denvir of Elm Park, with the other semi-final this morning involving Robert Brazill (Naas) and Alan Fahy (Dun Laoghaire).
Mullarney hadn’t gone beyond the 15th in match play before taking on Flanagan, a semi-finalist in the recent South of Ireland and, not surprisingly it was a very tight affair. Flanagan was unlucky when his second shot to the long 16th trickled off the front edge of the green and he was unable to match the Galwayman’s birdie four to take a one hole lead that he retained to the finish.
“I am delighted to come through a really tough match,” he enthused.
“I also love the people and to win the Close here would mean an awful lot to me.”
Mullarney looks a good bet to reach this afternoon’s final although he is not taking anything for granted against Denvir, who is only 18 years of age and recently completed his Leaving Certificate at St Andrew’s College.
Denvir showed commendable resolve in beating the popular home club member, Ed Stack, at the 19th. He had fallen behind to a birdie at the 16th but got back on terms at the 18th where Stack opened the door by finding sand off the tee. The youngster unleashed a massive drive that rolled to within a few feet of the green to draw level and then took hole and match by holing from 12 feet for birdie at the first tie hole.
Robert Brazill, 22, has been one of the most consistent players in the country all year and went to the top of the Bridgestone Order of Merit table with yesterday’s win over Cathal Butler of Kinsale.
Brazill looked to be well in control as they turned for home but Butler is nothing if not a fighter. He birdied the 12th and 13th and got up and down to halve the 14th and 15th. However, Brazill, winner of the West of Ireland at Easter, had too much in reserve and finished the contest at the 16th with a birdie four.
Brazill now meets Alan Fahy of Dun Laoghaire, a quarter-final winner over Eoin Murphy of Dundalk.
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