Stuart Grehan leads Irish Close contenders

Memories of the 1987 final at Tramore will be revived this week when the AIG Irish Close Championship takes place over the outstanding seaside layout for the third time.

Stuart Grehan leads Irish Close contenders

On that occasion, Tramore’s own Eddie Power thrilled the locals when he captured the first of his three national titles, beating JP Fitzgerald - nowadays Rory McIlroy’s highly successful caddie - in the final by two holes.

Fitzgerald (who again lost in the final to Gary Murphy in 1992) was a formidable amateur player and has made much capital over the years of his 20th hole defeat of Darren Clarke in the 1987 semi-final.

Ironically, Fitzgerald was to enjoy considerable success as Clarke’s caddie on the professional scene a few years later before linking up with McIlroy.

Although Power still plays to a plus handicap out of the Kilkenny club and knows the Tramore course intimately, it is unlikely he will figure among the championship contenders come the closing stages on Friday and Saturday. But he will still be one to watch and it is a considerable source of satisfaction for Eddie that his son Kevin is also qualified to tee it up this week.

Fresh from their victory at the Home Internationals at Royal Portrush last week, Robin Dawson, Alex Gleeson and Colin Fairweather will also compete in Tramore. Dawson won the AIG Senior Cup last year with the Waterford club and having rediscovered his best form in recent weeks with a top six finish at the European Amateur in Slovakia, he will be a strong contender.

Alongside him for the opening two rounds are North of Ireland runner-up Gary Collins from Rosslare and Dundalk’s Caolan Rafferty, who reached the final four at Portrush.

However, with the South and East of Ireland titles to his name already this season, Tullamore’s Stuart Grehan is chasing a hat-trick of “majors” and starts favourite. The 22-year-old has enjoyed a dream summer which included a trip to South Korea to represent Ireland at the World University Games.

His Irish teammate Alex Gleeson, who also competed in Korea, will be alongside him during stroke play qualifying, as is Portmarnock’s Geoff Lenehan, who was leading qualifier at the North. Knock’s Colin Fairweather, who lost to Grehan in the final of the South, is another likely contender.

Pat Murray was beaten in last year’s final at Seapoint and at 44, the 2009 champion is still a serious competitor having reached the last eight at the South of Ireland and helped Limerick to Munster Irish Senior Cup success at the weekend.

A fortnight ago, Alan Lowry was celebrating his maiden victory at the Mullingar Scratch Cup. His brother Shane added a World Golf Championship trophy to the family collection in the meantime and Alan holed the crucial winning putt for Maynooth University in the AIG Senior Cup (Leinster Final) on Sunday, so the Clara man is on form and in good spirits coming into this week.

Play gets underway today at 7.30am with the first of two rounds of stroke play qualifying. The top 64 will progress to the matchplay stages, which begin on Thursday with the final set for Saturday.

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