From Brian Keogh at Rosses Point
Douglas’s JP Hughes survived until the fourth day of the West of Ireland Championship at Rosses Point.
But it was darkness that ensured his survival after he had battled back from two down after 10 holes to force an extra-time battle with Ulsterman Michael Sinclair.
Ulster Bank employee Hughes was two down after 10 holes of his second round clash with former East of Ireland champion Sinclair before clawing back the 11th and 12th with birdies in the earliest West of Ireland championship in history.
Despite the reduction of the field to 120, lack of daylight was always going to be a threat and so it proved as Sinclair and Hughes halved their way to the finish and then agreed to come back a 7.50 today after they were still inseparable after another half at the 19th.
“It was just too dark,” said 32-year-old Hughes, who will be seeking another day off work today. "We just agreed that it was better to come back tomorrow."
Ironically, Mullingar’s Dessie Morgan and Ulsterman Rory Leonard were playing in the match behind Sinclair and Hughes but had no problem continuing.
Morgan was three down with three to play but finished birdie-par-birdie to force extra holes and then clinched his place in the last 16 with a winning par-four at the 19th in near darkness.
It was an action-packed day all round at County Sligo as five Irish internationals made their exit in the first amateur major of the season.
Irish champion Shane Lowry and English favourite Jonathan Hurst both survived a day that started with a gentle breeze and finished with a freezing blast from the north.
There were first round exits for Banbridge’s Connor Doran and Co Louth’s Simon Ward before defending champion Joe Lyons, Newlands’ Cian Curley and Royal Dublin’s Niall Kearney departed in the afternoon.
Kearney was forced to retire with a shoulder injury after just 11 holes of his second round clash with Galway’s Eddie McCormack, losing four holes on the spin from the third while Lyons confessed that he simply didn’t putt well enough as he lost 3 and 2 to Ulsterman Ryan Boal.
Lowry came through a tough battle with Kock’s Nicky Grant, holing a 35-foot monster on the 17th to go one up and then surviving at the last when Grant missed a six-foot chance to force extra holes.
“There are always going to be matches like this if you are going to win championships,” said Lowry. “I had a couple of them last year in the Close in Cork. I suppose I am one of the favourites now because a lot of big names went out today.”
Lancastrian Hurst played just 25 holes as he crushed Claremorris’ Pat Killeen 7 and 5 and then dispatched Cork’s Alan Harrington by 7 and 6 in the afternoon, hitting every green in regulation and missing little inside 10 feet.
But the 22-year-old Englishman faces a massive against County Sligo favourite Gary McDermott in the last 16 this morning.
The 26-year-old Rosses Point native is so determined to give his all this year that he gave up alcohol in January and practised hard before and after his day job with AIB in Sligo to give himself every chance of becoming the first ‘home’ winner since Cecil Ewing in 1950.
“For a Rosses Point man the ‘West’ is the biggest championship of all,” said McDermott, who was three up with three to play against England’s Ben Jones before a shank onto the beach at the 17th delayed a 2 and 1 victory. “If you were to win a championship, it is the one you would choose to win.
“I got to the last 16 the first year I played but I know what to expect a wee bit now. Before you would be a bit fearful and possibly giving too much respect to the bigger players. But you realise that if you dig your heels in and play your own game there is no-one you can’t beat.”