Galway’s Ronan Mullarney will take a healthy four-shot lead into today’s second round at the Flogas Irish Amateur Open Championship after setting the pace with a course-record and career-low 62 in Sligo.
It was the ideal start for the Maynooth University Paddy Harrington scholar, already in pole position to become the first Connacht winner of the national championship since Rosses Point’s Cecil Ewing won the coveted title at Portmarnock in 1951.
Today’s chasing pack has an international look to it with Scotland’s Euan Walker and Robbie Muir and England’s James Newton all in the hunt following opening five-under-par 66s.
Connemara teenager Luke O’Neill is a shot further back on four under alongside Massareene’s Tiarnan McLarnon, Dutchman Koen Kouwenaar, and a quartet of Englishmen: Jake Bolton, Arron Edwards-Hill, Jensen Hull, and Charlie Strickland.
Mullarney made the most of the Irish Amateur’s return to the famous Rosses Point links yesterday for the first time since 1950, when JB Carr beat Ewing in the final, as he continued his good form this season in fine style.
A runner-up at both the R&A Scholars and Lee Valley Senior Scratch Cup last month, the Galway clubman carded a bogey-free nine-under round yesterday, including five birdies in a row on the back nine.
Mullarney’s 62 bettered the previous course record of 64 set by David Brady at the 2014 West of Ireland and Robin Dawson, last year’s champion at Royal County Down, who matched Brady in the West in 2018.
Yet it had been an inauspicious start as the 23-year-old, currently studying for a master’s degree in strategy and innovation, explained.
“The whole day didn’t start well. I lost my wallet this morning. I forgot my battery leaving the house, and I plonked it in the bunker on the first,” Mullarney said. “I got going after that.
“There’s no point lying, I was nervous coming in there. I had a nice stretch in the middle from 11 to 15, I birdied them all. I’ve played here a lot. I know the place really well.
After the seventh, I was two behind Charlie (Strickland). That was good. We were kind of feeding off each other. I was thinking that I needed to hole something because he was pulling away.
Mullarney is mindful of the difficulty in following up a strong opening round.
He said: “I don’t like to hide from the fact if I’m going well. If it comes to the last day and there’s a few people following me, I know I’m doing well. There’s no point hiding from it. Hopefully, I have to deal with it at some stage.
“Even the pros say it’s hard to follow a good round. I will try my best to take each shot as it comes. Tomorrow is a different day and hopefully the putts will drop. One thing I was focused on coming down the last few holes, I’m going to get all my putts to the hole.”
Castle’s Robert Moran is in a group on three under following an opening 68 while 1999 champion Gary Cullen made his bid to bridge a 20-year gap with his first-round 69.
If there is to be a third Munster victory in a row at the Irish Amateur following a 2017 victory for Peter O’Keeffe and Tramore’s Robin Dawson a year ago, it will have to come from a long way back.
Walker Cup squad hopeful James Sugrue of Mallow is best placed of those from the southern province and will start the day at one under par, eight strokes off Mullarney’s 18-hole lead, after a rollercoaster 70 that began with a birdie at the par-four second and then eagle at the par-five third. Bogeys at the sixth, 10th and 17th, with only one more birdie, coming at the eighth, leave Sugrue playing catch-up.
He is not alone. Fellow Irish international Conor Purcell of Portmarnock, runner-up here in April at the West of Ireland Championship and coming in as Ireland’s highest placed male golfer of the World Amateur Golf Rankings at number 21, also shot a 70.
And alongside them both is reigning AIG Irish Close champion Robbie Cannon, the 2013 Irish Amateur Open winner. The strength and conditioning coach with the Laois GAA footballers defeated Purcell in the Irish Close semi-finals at the European Club last August.
Monkstown’s Sean Desmond goes into round two at level par following his first-round 71 but there is even more work to do for Douglas’s O’Keeffe, the 2017 champion at Royal County Down, who must rebound at Rosses Point following an opening five-over-par 76.