COACH Neil Manchip put one over on pupil Shane Lowry when he outscored the European Tour star by three shots in the opening round of the Ladbrokes.com Irish PGA.
The Scot, 37, usually ends up on the wrong end of a battle of wits when it comes to who’s longer off the tee. But the 1999 Irish PGA champion had the last laugh at Seapoint yesterday as he hit seven birdies in superb five under 67 as Lowry was forced to birdie three of his last five holes for a 70.
The Scot was the story of the day as he showed top student Lowry that he can still play a bit as he finished one stroke adrift of big-hitting Belfast man Damian Mooney, who cracked seven birdies and carded an incredible nine threes in a six under 66 to top the leaderboard.
Manchip said: “My iron play and putting was excellent today. Normally Shane shows me the way – and gives me a good slagging for my lack of distance.”
Manchip has lived in Ireland since 1991, starting as an assistant at Royal County Down before moving to Royal Dublin. He took over as national coach to the GUI five years ago, helping players like Lowry and Rory McIlroy win a host of individual titles as well as two European Team Championships.
He said: “Winning this title in 99 was the highlight of my playing career but, as a coach, watching Shane win the Irish Open last year and those wins by Ireland in the European Amateur Team Championships are right up there.”
Lowry couldn’t resist a crack at his coach at the finish, who took advantage of a rain-softened course where the tees at the tough par-four fifth and 13th holes were pushed up.
Grinning, Lowry said: “It played into your hands today with a few nice forward tees there.”
But he added: “Obviously Neil can play. To be honest, I couldn’t believe it when I saw him at 66/1 in the betting.”
Former British Amateur champion Brian McElhinney and six-time winner Des Smyth are tied for third after 69s with Lowry in a seven-way tie for fifth place on two under.
As pre-tournament favourite Damien McGrane battled back from three over par after four holes to grind out a one under par 71, six-time winner Smyth had five birdies and a pair of three-putt bogeys for a 69 that leaves him lurking just three off the lead.
The 57-year old, a winner on the European Senior Tour just three weeks ago, took his hat off to playing partner Mooney, who racked up nine threes in a sizzling 66 that featured seven birdies in a nine hole stretch in the middle of his round.
Smyth said: “I’m happy with my day’s work though I putted erratically. I holed a few good putts but my two bogeys where three-putts. But Damien played great. He was brilliant. He’s a power hitter. He made some start to the front nine.”
Starting on the 10th, Mooney birdied the 16th and 18th before starting home with five threes in a row as he followed a birdie at the first with four in a row from the third.
Despite a bogey at the seventh, Mooney said: “I can attribute it all to Johnny Foster at Greenacres, who has been coaching me for the last two months. He’s the best I’ve seen. I’m delighted with that start but there are still three rounds to go.”
McGrane got off to a rocky start when he drove into a bunker at the par-five 10th, failed to get out first time and then three-putted for a double bogey seven.
He bogeyed the 13th to slip to three over but bounced back with a hat-trick of birdies at the 16th, 17th and 18th before picking up eight pars and a lone birdie at the tough seventh on the way home.
Unhappy with his driving, McGrane said: “It was a civilized round but I was hitting the ball left for some reason. Yesterday I hit the ball lovely, or at least I was hitting it forwards. Today I kept smothering it left.”
Joking about his bad start, he said: “I need to relax. I need to sleep for 12 hours instead of nine hours.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved