Tiarnan McLarnon triumphs at AIG Irish Close Championship

Tiarnan McLarnon (23) from the Massereeene club in Antrim became the fifth Northern Ireland golfer in a row to capture the AIG Irish Close Championship, beating Alex Gleeson (Castle) 2&1 in Saturday’s final at Tramore.

McLarnon follows Paul Cutler, Chris Selfridge, Cormac Sharvin and John-Ross Galbraith in keeping the national title north of the border every year since 2011.

After edging out Ardee’s Eugene Smith on the 18th in the semi-final, McLarnon reeled off three early birdies as he jumped into a four-hole lead after six in the decider.

After that, he saw the advantage reduced to one after 10, before regaining control and emerging victorious.

“Alex was probably classed as the favourite for the final,” McLarnan observed. “He is a great player. Last time I played him, he beat me 6&4 in the Interpros two years ago.

“I knew he was going to fire birdies at me. And he did. But I was able to cope with it. I was three under after five and it put him under pressure. It was a good start because it was a platform I could work off.” A technician at Armagh Dental Lab, McLarnon graduated from the University of Ulster last year and still finds time to play Gaelic football with his local club Kickhams Creggan.

“This is why I play golf,” said the new champion. “I come home from work, get dinner and go to the range until maybe 10pm. Today it paid off.”

Robin Dawson’s semi-final defeat by his Irish team mate Alex Gleeson came as a big disappointment for the local galleries who were hoping to see the talented 20-year-old be the first to bring the trophy back to Waterford since Eddie Power claimed the third of his titles in 1998. Gleeson looked to have assured himself of a place in the decider when three ahead with five to play but Dawson narrowed his arrears with a spectacular birdie at the 14th, the most difficult hole on the superbly presented Tramore layout throughout the week.

A par 4 at the 17th was sufficient for Dawson to bring the match up the 18th where to the delight of the excited onlookers, he pitched to five feet and knocked in the birdie putt to prolong the contest.

Gleeson’s birdied the 19th, to progress to the final as he looked to essandlooked well placed to add the Close to other wins this year including the British Universities Championship for the coveted Boyd Quaich at St Andrews.

However, it was not to be. In the final, McLarnon was the steadier and reflected: “I think 11 and 12 were key. You need to just stay there. I was two up and then I birdied 13 which has probably been the second hardest hole this week. That gave me a lot of satisfaction.”


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