Phelan gets Munster off to flyer

Brilliantly led from the front by Kevin Phelan, Munster got their Interprovincial Championship campaign off to the best possible start when beating holders Connacht with two matches to spare at Royal Co Down yesterday.

Phelan, who hit the headlines in 2010 by qualifying for the US Open courtesy of a final-hole eagle in the qualifying round at Hobe Sound, Florida, partnered fellow Waterford golfer Alan Thomas to a 6&5 win over Sean Cannon and Stephen Healy in the foursomes and then followed up by claiming the number one singles against fellow Irish international Eddie McCormack.

Munster held a point advantage after the foursomes and in the afternoon Phelan was joined in the winners’ enclosure by Ian O’Rourke, who defeated current international Barry Anderson on the 16th; Gary O’Flaherty, who got home at the 17th against Steffan O’Hara and Thomas, a 4&3 winner over Joe Lyons.

Geoff Lenehan halved his match with Cannon and at the end of an enthralling contest, the Phil Cooney-captained Munster side enjoyed a 6½-4½ winning margin.

Nevertheless, the manner in which Ulster disposed of Leinster by nine matches to two suggests that they are now clear favourites to regain the title. They took control of the contest by taking a two-point lead after the foursomes but few could have foreseen a 6-1 sweep of the singles by the home province.

Irish Close and East of Ireland champion Chris Selfridge got Ulster off to the ideal start with a clear-cut 4&3 win over Rory O’Donovan and by the end of a one-sided affair, the only crumb of comfort for Leinster were halved matches for Eugene Smith and Simon Ward at the end of the order against Colm Campbell and Michael Sinclair.

The Munster boys’ team completed a great day for the province by beating Connacht with two matches to spare, while Leinster had consolation for the defeat of the seniors by edging out Ulster 5½ to 4½.

Meanwhile, former tennis star Yevgeny Kafelnikov is back on the European Tour in Austria today, four years after discovering just how much he has to learn as a golfer.

The 38-year-old, winner of the French and Australian Opens during a career that saw him dethrone Pete Sampras as world No 1 in 1999 and earn nearly €19.2 million, plays his second Tour event at the Lyoness Open in Atzenbrugg.

His debut came in the 2008 Russian Open, but rounds of 89 and 80 meant he missed the halfway cut by 27, although there was one player 15 shots worse than that — amateur Alexey Kovalev had rounds of 99 and 85.

Bad though that looked, it was nevertheless better than Kafelnikov’s first appearance on the second tier Challenge Tour. That was in Moscow in 2005 when he was dead last on 40 over par after scores of 88 and 96.

Last man to win the men’s tennis singles and doubles titles at the same grand slam tournament — the 1996 French Open — he is paired with Welsh World Cup winner Stephen Dodd and Swede Oskar Henningsson in the opening two rounds.

The field also includes last year’s French Open champion Thomas Levet and new Austrian star Bernd Wiesberger. He lifted the Ballantine’s Championship in Korea in April and as a result of that will make his World Golf Championship debut in Akron next week.

Joakim Haeggman, first Swede to play in the Ryder Cup, and compatriot Niclas Fasth, runner-up to David Duval in Royal Lytham’s staging of the British Open in 2001, are also part of the line-up.

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