Chapman masters the conditions

BALLYBUNION is rarely visited by a north-easterly wind gusting to over 20 miles per hour but when it happens, the famous golf links becomes a seriously testing challenge.

The scoring in yesterday’s opening round of the AIB Irish Seniors Open bore ample testimony to that fact as many of the field struggled to match the scoring enjoyed during practice rounds played in glorious sunshine but with little breeze on Thursday.

The sky was blue, the Atlantic looked at its most majestic and the whole scene was worthy of a picture postcard extolling the virtues of the North Kerry resort.

On the links itself, however, hospitality was often in short supply as the wind blew stronger and stronger as the day progressed.

However England’s Roger Chapman, who reached the qualifying age of 50 only a month ago, mastered the conditions and jumped into the lead with a fine round of 67.

His caddy this week is Darren Reynolds, who has just split up with Paul McGinley after six years.

Chapman, the man who beat Hal Sutton twice in one day in the 1981 Walker Cup match at Cypress Point, (when his team-mates included Ronan Rafferty and Philip Walton) built his score on two eagles. The first came at the 4th, where he hit a drive and two iron to 15 feet and the second at the downwind 16th where he opted for a four iron off the tee and the same club again to get within 10 feet of the hole.

Once again, the putt dropped and Chapman had good reason to be happy with the four iron, with which he holed in one at the 17th during the recent US PGA Championship.

“I’ve been looking forward to the Seniors Tour for the last three or four years and it’s great to be back playing with my old mates,” said Chapman. “I would sign for two more 67s right now although I mightn’t need them if the wind remains as strong as it was this afternoon. The 13th, a par five of about 488 yards, was playing a three wood and gap wedge today but it can be very difficult to judge the club when the wind is behind.”

He leads by two from a group of five on 69. Tournament favourites Ian Woosnam and Sam Torrance have a lot of ground to make up to figure.

Woosnam took six on the 18th after twice finding thick rough on the left and then three-putted from nine feet. Torrance is back in the pack after a 76. 2007 winner Costantino Rocca finished on 72 and defending champion Juan Quiros is on 73.

Des Smyth leads the Irish contingent as one of the five on 69. He described his round as “a roller coaster” after going from three under par after five to one over after 12 before finally getting in on two under. After such a good start, Smyth looked set for a low score but a double bogey six at the 11th, where he pulled his drive into a bank on the left, took three to reach the green and then three putted. He then tried to reach the par three 12th with a rescue club which ballooned into the wind and that was another stroke gone. However, his response was superb as he followed a big drive down the long 13th with a seven iron of 175 yards that finished a foot from the hole. The eagle pushed him back to one under and he picked up another at another wind assisted hole, the 16th, before finishing with two pars.

“I doubt if two more 69s will be enough,” said Smyth. “The great thing about Ballybunion is it gives you chances of eagles and birdies although you do get penalised for bad shots and I knew I was in trouble when I landed in that bank at the 11th. I only wish my iron play was a little better because I love playing in conditions like these when the course is at its best.”

Eamonn Darcy hung in well for a 73 and Liam Higgins and Peter O’Hagan had good reason to be happy with 74 but Denis O’Sullivan ran up double bogeys, at the 6th, 9th and 18th, on the way to a 77.

Interestingly, the 18th played into a severe, left to right crosswind, proved the most difficult hole yesterday averaging 4.67 with only three birdies.

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