Four putts cost O'Connor

By Brian Keogh

Hat trick chaser Christy O'Connor Jnr took four putts at the 18th and admitted - I wish I could play the hole again.

O'Connor crashed to a two over par 73 that leaves him six shots adrift of surprise leader Toboru Sugai of Japan on a terrible day for the Irish.

After missing out last year with a broken leg, the Galwayman is bidding for his third consecutive win the event after his famous victories at Royal Portrush in 1999 and at Royal County Down in 2000.

But yesterday's mishap leaves him with a lot to do, despite the high winds that sent scores soaring later in the day.

He complained: "What a terrible finish. I played superbly but my putting was filthy. At the 18th I hit a nine iron 119 yards and through the green. I took a drop in the drop zone and then I putted to seven feet.

"I hit the first putt perfect. The second one was a real quick left to righter. And from there I wasn't concentrating on the little one back and I missed it and nearly missed the next one too.

"I mean three three-putts and a four-putt - that's just the name of my game today because tee to green I was perfect.

"We had a lot of crosswind all day long and those greens are so small so it's terrible. Everything was really good today and if I make five at the last and I'm lying really well."

It was never going to be O'Connor's day when he hit a five wood to eight feet at the first but missed the eagle putt.

He then dropped shots at the fourth, sixth and eighth but made just one birdie at the short seventh to turn in one over.

A birdie at the 17th got him back to level before he took those three putts from seven feet at the last.

Sugai, 52, putted brilliantly and had five birdies and just one bogey in hsi round thanks to local caddie Fergus MacFerran.
Now he wants the wind to blow and make a run at the title.

He said: "My caddie has been a member here for 40 years and he reads all the line on the putts. I like this course and feel comfortable here. It was not easy out there but I think would like more wind."

Defending champion Ian Stanley of Australia started birdie-birdie but shot a four over par 75 as three time runner-up John Bland made a fine start after a level par 71 in the worst of the afternoon breeze.

The South African said: "I've been second here a lot of times. Even if my bank manager says that two seconds are better than one first I'm not sure if he is right. I would love to win it. I'll keep trying and let's see what happens at the end of the week."

Sugai leads by one from a trio of Scots. Russell Weir is one off the pace after a 68 with John Chillas and Peter Kerr a shot further back on two under.

While Watson and England's Tony Allen are just three back on one under, it was a real struggle for the rest of the Irish.

US-based Clare man Joe McDermott was one under after seven but bogeyed the eighth and then ran up a triple bogey seven at the ninth on his way to a 75.

Newcastle born Eddie Polland grew up next door to the course but still hit a 76 while Cork's Denis O'Sullivan opened with a double bogey seven and crashed to a six over par 77.

Kenny Stevenson (77), Paul Leonard (78), Gordon Parkhill (80) and Bryan Malone (82) found the conditions just too tough and will struggle to make the cut tonight.