Not a single member of one of the strongest fields to contest the Pierse Motors South of Ireland managed to break the par of 72 in yesterday’s first qualifying round of the 116th championship.
While several players boasting scratch or even lower handicaps returned slightly embarrassing scores, the 45km/h wind sweeping in from the Atlantic, accompanied by a few fierce showers, played a major part in the carnage. And it has left several big names, including internationals and former champions, concerned about their participation among the 64 who qualify for the matchplay rounds beginning tomorrow.
At the end of a day that began at 7.30am and finished in semi darkness more than 12 hours later, 21-year-old Rowan Lester (Hermitage), who lost in last year’s final to Conor Purcell and a couple of weeks ago captured the North of Ireland at Royal Portrush, was leading the way after a splendid level-par round of 72. The wind had abated somewhat late in his round but this was still an outstanding performance given that Lester started off with a double-bogey six at the 1st and dropped two more strokes at the 6th. If his round was far from a lesson in consistency, it was salvaged by birdies at the 12th, 13th, 17th, and 18th that saw him home in an admirable three-under-par 33.
While it was predictable that Tramore’s Robin Dawson would have been one of those to closely follow Lester home on 74, that mark was equalled by 19-year-old Sean Desmond from Monkstown. He featured his score with an eagle at the 5th, the renowned ‘Klondyke’, although his fine effort would have been even better were it not for a hat-trick of dropped shots from the 13th.
While well-fancied players like Lester, 72; Dawson, 7; holder Purcell, 75; Peter O’Keeffe, Robert Cannon, Conor O’Rourke, all 76; and Colm Campbell and Stuart Grehan, both 78, are reasonably comfort at this stage, the likes of internationals Colm Fairweather, 80, and Tiarnan McLarnan, 82, have a battle on their hands.
Tyrone Clarke and Mark Power are not just two of the most promising young players in the country but also the sons of distinguished golfing fathers, Darren, a former “South” champion — not to mention Open champion and Ryder Cup captain — and three-time Irish Close champion Eddie. Battling their way through the elements would have been an invaluable learning experience for both and in all the circumstances they had good reason to be pleased with rounds of 80 which leave them in with a reasonable chance of surviving tonight’s 36-hole cut.
Of the two, Power, 17, had greater reason to be disappointed with his score given that after reaching the turn in a highly creditable one over 37, he took 43 on the way home largely because of an out-of-bounds triple bogey at the long 18th, while he also double-bogeyed the 11th and 15th. For now at least, young Mark holds the family bragging rights having outscored his father, Eddie, competing in his 35th “South”, by a single shot.
Clarke, 19, tackled the links in contrasting fashion, going out in 44 before completing the homeward journey in an impressive 36. He said: “It was tough out there but my father was in touch before I went out and warned what it would be like, that it would be difficult for everyone else as well and that the birdies would come.”
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