A spectacular chip in for eagle at the final hole for a round of one under par 71 enabled Rowan Lester of Hermitage to ensure his place at the head of affairs after the second and final qualifying round of the Pierse Motors South of Ireland Championship at a wet and windy Lahinch yesterday.

It was the only round under par in the most trying of weather conditions over the two days and sends the 21 year-old into the match-play stages of the 116th South championship starting this morning with his confidence sky. A couple of weeks ago, he captured the North of Ireland Championship at Portrush and so his sights are set on joining Darren Clarke as the only winners of the two events in the same year.

As on Wednesday, a severe wind whipped in off the Atlantic, prompting the committee to push the tees forward at several holes with the dual intention of keeping the scoring average within the bounds of respectability and keeping the programme of matches on schedule — which wasn’t easy with groups taking over five hours to get around and the final groups in the first round coping with semi darkness.

Lester returns to his studies at the Texas Wesleyann University next month with his game in great shape and his confidence sky high.

The chances are that he has left his challenge for a place in the British & Irish Walker Cup team a little late but he will be to the forefront of Ireland’s bid for a four-in-a-row in the Home Internationals at Moortown, Leeds, next month.

Yesterday’s 71 was the first round under par and added to Wednesday’s 72 meant the leading qualifier’s medal was in his safe keeping from early in the day.

While he had the good fortune to chip in for a two at the 11th and for eagle on the 18th, Lester deserved the odd break considering the quality of his ball striking from tee to green.

“I played a lot better today, I was solid all the way and didn’t hole any long putts,” he said.

“No matter how good you are striking the ball off the tee, you still need to chip and putt well and I have been doing that. I had two birdies, at the fourth, where downwind I smashed the drive over the Klondyke to within a sand wedge of the green, and the 11th, along with the eagle at the 18th and three bogeys. I would love to win this week after losing the final last year. The course is in fabulous condition and it really suits me although I can’t say why.”

Having reached the final last year only to lose to fellow Dubliner Conor Purcell, Lester is now favourite to go all the way on this occasion. However, with a whole host of current and former internationals and many other formidable performers through to the match play stages, he faces no easy task. One man to keep an eye on is Waterford redhead Robin Dawson who has performed solidly with rounds of 74 and 73 to come in second four behind Lester.

“My strategy was to keep big numbers off the card and mixed three birdies with four dropped shots,” he said. “It looks like my chances of making the Walker Cup team have passed but there’s still the Home Internationals to aim.”

In spite of the potential for mayhem, the majority of favoured players have made their way through to the match play stages. Lester and Dawson are joined by international colleagues holder Conor Purcell, Alex Gleeson, Conor O’Rourke, John Ross Galbraith, Stuart Grehan, Colm Campbell and West of Ireland and Munster Stroke Play champion Barry Anderson and Peter O’Keeffe of Douglas, this year’s winner of the Irish Amateur Open at Royal Co Down.

Darren Clarke, winner at Lahinch in 1990, would be proud of his 19-year-old son Tyrone who made it through with rounds of 80 and 77 but it was not a good day for the father and son team of Eddie, 52, and Mark, 17, Power. Dad, a three-time Irish Close champion, took 84 for 165 and son, Mark, the Irish Boys champion for the past two years, shot 81 for 161.

Both missed the cut with seven of those on 160 going through.


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