Setback for Peter O’Keeffe’s double bid

Setback for Peter O’Keeffe’s double bid

Peter O'Keeffe. File photo: Niall O'Shea

The European Club is a relentless test of golfing excellence, but while Peter O'Keeffe dropped three shots in his last two holes to find himself four shots off the lead he's looking forward to seeing the wind blow over the weekend as he chases a rare double in the Flogas Irish Amateur Open Championship.

Favourite to wrap up the Bridgestone Order of Merit having claimed the AIG Irish Amateur Close and the Munster Strokeplay titles earlier this summer, the Douglas star is also looking to become just the seventh player to win the Irish Close and Irish Open titles in the same year.

For a long time, he looked set to challenge for the overnight lead in a 54-hole event where the top 50 and ties on Saturday will qualify for Sunday's final round.

But even in soft and almost windless conditions, The European Cup asks serious questions on all 18 holes and the Douglas man paid the price on a day when just four players broke par.

One-under with two to play after mixing bogeys at the fifth and eighth (traditionally the sixth and eighth as the second has been replaced by the par-three 12A) with birdies at the fourth, 13th, and 14th, he spun a wedge off the 17th and failed to get up and down, then made six at the last after catching a fairway bunker left with a three-wood.

It all added up to a two-over 73 that left the 39-year-old strength and conditioning coach tied for 13th, four strokes behind Athenry's Allan Hill, who followed a three-putt bogey at the sixth (traditionally the seventh) with birdies at the 14th, 15th, and 18th for a two-under 69.

Hill, a 21-year-old final-year golf scholarship student at NUI Maynooth, made a 35 footer on the last for a closing birdie and a one-shot lead over Letterkenny's Cian Harkin, Switzerland's Cedric Gugler, and Scotland's Ruben Lindsay.

"It was playing tricky out there", Hill said after his round. "I made a three-putt on six. Bar that, I thought I played very solidly all day.

"It's a fresh day tomorrow. It's all about trying to do the same thing as I did today.” 

O’Keeffe was frustrated by his finishing having patiently plotted his way around a course where he shot rounds of 82 and 90 as a wild young player in the 2006 Irish Amateur Close, where Rory McIlroy retained his title as a 17-year-old.

“I stuck to a good game plan all day and just deviated away from it on 18,” said O’Keeffe, who felt he should have hit driver rather than three wood at the 481-yard 18th. “I played lovely all day with a good strategy but it’s just a patience golf course. The last is 480 yards and you can’t lay too far back; you have to take it on.

“So I should’ve taken it on the whole way and just hit a driver but while I hit a lovely shot it just caught that bunker on the left. Dead.” 

Still well in the hunt, he’s a far different player to the 23-year-old who missed the cut here 15 years ago.

“I shot 66 here in the Close in 2018 so I’ve got a handle on this course now,” said the Douglas man, who birdied the fourth, bogeyed the fifth and eighth but then rolled in birdies at the 13th and 14th to dip into the red. “It’s just completely about patience but you have to get really good shots and I did for 16 holes. It can just catch you out at any time.” 

Harkin only got into the event as a reserve and he was thrilled to find himself in the mix.

"I was just happy to be here," he said. "I stayed calm throughout. I made a few putts and did all I could to stay out of the rough all day. It's all about hitting fairways and greens out there.

"I've proven myself to the boys at home today. Sometimes I wonder if they think 'is he good enough?' To see my name near the top of the leaderboard is a dream come true."

Roscommon's Thomas Higgins shot a level par 71 to lie solo sixth with Galway veteran Joe Lyons in seven-man logjam for sixth on one-over that includes Irish international Matthew McClean from Malone.

Despite a double-bogey on 18, Lindsay is only one shot off the pace.

“It’s my first tournament round in a while. I’m delighted with how I played today. I holed a few putts. It’s been a solid day.

“It was nice to get back out there today, and feel a bit of pressure. Today was all about not playing myself out of contention.” 

Swiss visitor Gugler was out in the second group of the day, and stayed at the top of the leaderboard throughout.

“I played solid golf today,” the Zurich golfer reported. “I made no big mistakes. My long game was good. I’m pretty happy.

“I like playing on links golf. We don't have these courses in Switzerland obviously, but I’m really happy to shoot a good score today.” 

Day one is about not shooting yourself out of the tournament and while Castle’s Robert Moran was a no return after going down in a hail of bogeys and double bogeys well before the finish, the promise of wind on Saturday gives everyone on the right side of 80 a chance to get back into the tournament.

“My plan was today was just to keep myself in it,” O’Keeffe said. “I’m hoping for some weather.”

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