From the time he signed for a six under par 65 after the first qualifying round on Saturday last, Galway’s Ronan Mullarney looked a very sound bet for his first victory in the AIG Irish Close Championship.
And even though he may have suffered one or two anxious moments along the way, in yesterday’s final against big-hitting Robert Brazill from Naas, Mullarney got home on the 18th green after a terrific contest at Ballybunion.
Mullarney became the first leading qualifier to go all the way since Ulsterman Corman Sharvin at Connemara in 2013 and now plans to follow the promising Ulster man by trying his luck in the European Tour School next month.
He certainly appears to have the necessary composure, the attitude and above all a very compete all-round game which allows for a minimum of unforced errors and fully deserved to emulate such greats of the game as Jimmy Bruen and Cecil Ewing who have captured the Close at Ballybunion.
“I played my first round of golf on the links in practice last Friday and found it a great test from the outset even if also a little intimidating, especially the second shots,” he reported.
“I really loved chipping off that turf, it is so immaculate, and enjoyed the place from the beginning.
“Even though I had such a good run throughout the championship, I never felt at any time that I was entitled to it, golf never owes you anything.”
With two such fine players in the final which was played in glorious sunshine after all the rain and wind of the previous four days, it was sure to be a very close affair even though Mullarney had a slight edge for the most part, stretching his lead to two holes after drilling a glorious long iron to the heart of the extremely demanding par three 15th.
After a half in birdies at the 16th, there was a slight sign of nerves when three putts cost him the 17th and he was mightily relieved to see Brazill’s 15-foot putt on the final green lip out for a birdie that would have kept the affair alive.
“Rob is a superb player and I can’t believe someone who hits the ball so far can also hit it so straight,” said Mullarney. “I last played with him on the Irish tour of South Africa and he was good then and he’s good now. No, while he is a much bigger man than I am, I never allowed that to bother me, I just concentrated on playing my own game.”
The two semi-finals were graphic examples of match-play golf at its finest. Indeed, the climax to the Brazill-Alan Fahy clash was as dramatic as even the most critical observer could have desired as between them they shared birdies at the six holes before Brazill showed his fighting qualities to emerge a very worthy winner.
Behind for most of the match, Brazill moved ahead with a birdie on 16. Fahy stayed alive by holing a clutch par putt on 17 but Brazill played a sizzling iron shot at the last to secure victory.
The top seed Mullarney quickly gained control against his 18-year old opponent, Charlie Denvir (Elm Park), going three up through five and he stayed on top until the youngster made a late burst. With wins on 16 and 17, where he holed a birdie putt from 25 feet, Denvir put the squeeze on Mullarney but the Ireland international held his nerve down 18.
Semi-finals: R Mullarney (Galway) bt C Denvir (Elm Park) 2 holes; R Brazill (Naas) bt A Fahy (Dun Laoighre) 1 hole.
Final: Mullarney bt Brazill 1 hole.