Des Morgan impresses at South of Ireland Championship in Lahinch

Ever since the distinguished golf course architect Martin Hawtree modified and considerably altered the famous old links in 2001, Lahinch has become a formidable challenge for the game’s finest, whether amateur or professional.

Des Morgan impresses at South of Ireland Championship in Lahinch

That was again very much the case yesterday in the first of two stroke qualifying rounds in the South of Ireland Championship.

True, there was a stiff breeze blowing in off the adjacent Atlantic and the rough was sufficiently tough to punish those who strayed off line, but the course record of 66 was never under threat.

In fact, only five players, Des Morgan (New Forest and formerly of Mullingar) and Cian Geraghty (Laytown & Bettystown), both of whom went round in 70, and Keith Egan (Carton House), Andrew McCormack (Newcastle West) and Munster Stroke Play champion Shaun Carter (Royal Dublin) broke 70.

The 34 year-old Morgan has been a highly consistent championship performer for some time although the major prizes have eluded him so far. He has endured heart problems on and off since 2004 and suffered an attack while holidaying in Spain that fortunately turned out to be not as serious as at first feared. He was a model of consistency on this occasion, his two under par round containing birdies at the 2nd, 5th and 12th and a lone concession at the par three 16th.

Geraghty’s 70 was compiled in starkly contrasting fashion. He had a potentially disastrous start of a bogey six at the 2nd, a triple bogey seven at the 3rd and another dropped shot at the 5th. But he compensated with gains at the 4th, 8th and 9th to reach the turn in two over 38.

After that, there was no stopping him after that as he reeled off birdies at the 12th, 14th, 17th and 18th for a sparkling homeward run of 32.

The Power family from Kilkenny enjoyed a fruitful day. Dad Eddie, the former three times Irish Close champion, matched the par of 72 while son Kevin confirmed his undoubted promise by going round in 75.

Several leading names need to step up on yesterday’s form in today’s second qualifier if they are to be around for the match play stages.

East of Ireland champion Stuart Grehan, a plus 3 handicapper from Tullamore, travelled to Lahinch with his eye very much on a first Irish cap, but he struggled badly over the outward journey, a double bogey 6 at the relatively innocuous 9th seeing him to the turn in 41. To his credit, he fought back well on the homeward journey, which he covered in level par helped by a birdie at the long 18th.

Rosslare’s Gary Collins is also hoping to catch the Irish selectors’ eyes, having reached the final of the recent North of Ireland when he lost at the 2nd tie hole to Ulster’s John-Ross Galbraith.

Currently playing off plus 4, he had to settle for a round of 76 that contained a double bogey 5 at the short 11th and would have been a lot worse were it not for a priceless birdie at the always testing 17th.

Nor was there any joy for Alan Lowry, the younger brother of professional Shane who took 79, and former Muskerry Barton Shield winner Niall Gorey, now entered from Palmerstown Stud. He shot a discouraging round of 80.

Limerick’s Pat Murray has a proud record in the “South” and probably needs only a steady round today to go through after an opening 75, although a double bogey seven at the long 12th at a hole where his considerable length inevitably gave him a genuine chance of a birdie could well have proved costly.

The defending champion, Stuart Bleakley from Shandon Park, finished on the same mark.

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