The local man (20), a Paddy Harrington scholarship student at Maynooth University, bogeyed his last two holes but still saw the numbers add up to a two-over-par 73 on a day of utter carnage in the shadow of Ben Bulben.
Last year’s leading qualifier before going down to eventual champion Dermot McElroy in the semi-finals, Flanagan is embracing the heavy burden of local expectation and was delighted to head 17-year old Kevin LeBlanc from The Island by a shot in his bid for a second successive silver medal.
But with the home club waiting to end a 65-year wait for a winner that goes back to Cecil Ewing in 1950, he’s gunning for the ultimate honour for a County Sligo man.
“I like the expectations,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it is pressure to play well. I feel like it’s a confidence booster for me and I use it that way rather than play cagey golf.”
Flanagan and the rest of the morning starters arguably got the best of the conditions before a five-club wind meant the best score in the afternoon was a four-over 75 by Naas’ Jonathan Yates, who ended the day tied for third with Royal Dublin’s Sean Carter.
A two-wave, morning and afternoon shotgun start is in operation due to lack of light and having started on the ninth, Flanagan was level-par for the day playing his last two holes but finished bogey-bogey at the seventh and eighth for a 73.
LeBlanc started with a birdie at the third, then eagled the fifth with a seven iron to 15 feet to be three-under before Rosses Point bit back and he signed for a 74.
“I’m really happy with that given the conditions,” said LeBlanc who credited the presence of Henrik Stenson’s former caddie Jude O’Reilly on his bag as “massive.”
Conditions were so tough that the 14th, 15th, 17th and 18th required a driver and three wood for most players to get home.
And with just the top 64 to qualify for Sunday’s matchplay stages after today’s second round — 64th place was 11-over after yesterday’s play — the cut could be the highest since 16-over 158 made it in 2008, when Shane Lowry was champion.
Defending champion Dermot McElroy shot 79 as did fellow international Colm Campbell while East and South of Ireland champion Stuart Grehan shot 80 to match Alex Gleeson while North of Ireland winner John Ross Galbraith posted an 81.
“That’s probably the worst I’ve ever seen it here wind-wise,” said Co Sligo’s Gary McDermott after an 84. “It was really gusting. It was ferocious. There was no easy hole.”