Conor O’Rourke hits sensational 66 in Sligo at West of Ireland Amateur Open Championship

Conor O’Rourke, Naas, put a stuttering start to the season behind him by scorching to a stunning five under par 66 to grab a two-stroke lead after the first qualifying round of the Radisson Blu sponsored West of Ireland Amateur Open Championship at Co Sligo.

Conor O’Rourke hits sensational 66 in Sligo at West of Ireland Amateur Open Championship

The 25-year old earned his international call-up last year, when he won the prestigious St Andrews Links Trophy and the Nassau Invitational.

However, after being named in the Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup squad, he struggled for confidence earlier this year and only turned things around last week, when he won the French International Foursomes alongside Irish Alps Tour professional Tommy O’Driscoll in Paris.

He then turned on the style at Rosses Point, firing seven birdies in an impressive opening effort to lead by two shots from 17-year old Dundalk schoolboy Eoin Murphy.

“I just tried to keep things very simple,” said O’Rourke, who went out in 31 on a day when just five players in the 134-strong field broke par.

“I have gone through a bit of a rough patch lately, overcomplicating things a bit, so I tried to get back to basics with my fundamentals, because I got a bit loose with those things.”

The Naas ace birdied the first and second, picked up another shot by chipping dead at the long fifth, then reduced the downwind seventh to a sand wedge and six-foot putt.

After a superb 188-yard four-iron to 12 feet at the seventh, he picked up another shot at the eighth — the toughest hole on the course in yesterday’s 15mph west-north-west wind — then pitched dead to go six-under at the 12th. Three putts at the 14th and three more from just off the edge of the 17th saw him fall back to four-under-par before he hit a lob wedge to two feet to set up a closing birdie.

Pleased to show form again after an up-and-down start to the year, O’Rourke said: “I was happy to tie for fifth in the South American Amateur, but I was disappointed in South Africa; I struggled with the conditions and lost a bit of confidence, but I have been playing better the last little while and today was good. I am just trying to keep thing simple and, while today was good, especially on the front nine, it’s a long week here, so let’s see how we go.”

O’Rourke leads by two shots from Dundalk teenager Eoin Murphy, who had to play seven play-off holes in Wednesday’s 18-hole qualifier just to get into the field.

However, the strapping 17-year old took full advantage, making four birdies before finishing in style by holing a 60-yard lob wedge for an eagle two the 18th for an opening 68 on his senior debut.

A two-handicap member of the Irish Boys Development panel, Murphy was involved in a nine-man playoff for four spots, but only got through on the seventh tie hole.

He was one of three players chasing two spots on the seventh tie hole and looked out of it after being forced to take a penalty drop from the wall at Co Sligo’s short par-four second.

However, he got through with a bogey five when one of his rivals played a wrong ball.

“That was a bit of luck,” said Murphy “So I was delighted to play well today. It’s my first men’s championship and to be able to compete with these boys is great. Hopefully, I can do something solid tomorrow and get into the matchplay.”

Ardee’s Evan Farrell is third after a 69, with Dun Laoghaire’s Ted Collins and Ballyhaunis’ Andrew Hickey carding one-under 70s.

While Irish internationals John-Ross Galbraith and Tiarnan McLarnon shot rounds of 71 and 72, respectively, it was a tough day for some of the title favourites.

Defending champion Jonathan Yates posted a 73, Colm Campbell a 75, Co Sligo’s Sean Flanagan a 77, and Castle’s Alex Gleeson a 79 that featured a quintuple bogey nine at the 15th.

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