Mallow’s James Sugrue is lurking just four strokes off the lead in the Radisson Blu sponsored West of Ireland Championship at a sun-kissed County Sligo.
The former South of Ireland champion posted two-under 69 to share fourth place on one-under par with overnight leader Conor Purcell, Forrest Little’s Jack McDonnell, Chelmsford’s Arron Edwards-Hill, Waterford’s Eanna Griffin and 16-year old Boys international Joseph Byrne from Baltinglass.
Dundalk’s Caolan Rafferty produced a breathtaking display of iron-play, making six birdies in a five-under 66 to join Royal Dublin teenager Max Kennedy in the halfway lead on five-under.
Ranked 41st in the world, the 26-year old international followed an early bogey at the second with six birdies as 17-year old Kennedy followed his opening 67 with a 70 thanks to a 25-foot birdie putt at the 18th.
They lead by one stroke from defending champion Matt Brazill from Naas, who shot 70, as Portmarnock star Purcell struggled from the tee and shot 75.
Sugrue birdied the first but after making a seven at the par-five third, he got back to level par with a birdie four at the fifth and then eagled the par-five 12th before parring his way home for his 69 as Griffin fired a three-under 68 to join him on one-under.
It was a different story for Purcell, who turned in one-over par, then lost a ball off the tee and racked up a triple bogey seven at the 11th before following back-to-back birdies at the 12th and 13th with three-putt bogeys at the 16th and 18th.
The big mover was reigning South of Ireland champion Rafferty, who like Purcell, is a leading contender for Walker Cup honours this year.
“I am striking the ball as well as I have ever struck it,” Rafferty said after a six-birdie round. “I enjoy strokeplay and I like it around here. So it’s up to me to keep it going and just play the course and see what happens.”
After failing to get up and down for par after overshooting the tricky second, Rafferty birdied the par-five fifth, then hit an eight iron to five feet to set up a birdie at the eighth and turn in one-under par before racing home in 31.
Playing in bright sunshine and no more than a 15 mph northeast wind blowing across the links, the Dundalk man two-putted the long 12th, holed a 20-footer for a two at the 13th and then almost holed his approach to the 14th.
Despite hitting the hole, he didn’t make birdie but drained a 12 footer at the 15th, then hit the hole again with his five-iron tee shot at the 16th and knocked in the resulting six-footer for birdie.
He had to get up and down from 60 yards for par at the 17th, where his rescue wood rolled off the front of the green and he was pleased to par the last and match Kennedy, who putted well for the second day running, mixing four birdies with three bogeys.
The top 50 and ties will make the 54-hole cut today but while Ballybofey-Stranolar’s Ryan Griffin is now three strokes inside the mark on four-over after following an 80 with a 66, Douglas’ Peter O’Keeffe needs a round in the mid-60s now after a 78 left him on 13-over.
Meanwhile, Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell hit 69 for the second day running at the Valero Texas Open to head into the third round on -6, two off the lead.
Corey Connors, Jordan Spieth, Harold Varner III, Adam Schenk and Kyoung-Hoon Lee were setting the early pace yesterday, at the summit of the leaderboard on -8.
However, McDowell will have gained further confidence from his second-round showing which included an eagle at the par-five 14th.