By Brian Keogh
They might be worlds apart in terms of their standing in the game, but Justin Kehoe insists that Pádraig Harrington’s Open Championship has given him renewed belief in his ability to make it on tour.
The 27-year-old Offaly native provided one of the fairytale storylines of the season when he came through Regional and Local Final Qualifying to tee it up alongside the world’s best at Carnoustie two weeks ago.
While he missed the cut in Scotland, Kehoe’s cheque for €3,099 was the biggest of his four-year professional career. But he took away a far juicier bounty in terms of his enthusiasm for the game.
Inspired by Harrington’s major victory, the slimline Shinrone man as set his sights on the €24,000 top prize in the Challenge of Ireland at Glasson Golf Hotel and Country Club near Athlone.
The spectacular parkland gem on the banks of Lough Ree bared its teeth yesterday as a stiff west wind saw the course scoring average soar by three shots to 76.5 with just 10 players breaking par yesterday compared to 50 on Thursday.
Given the conditions, Kehoe was happy to card a one-over par 73 that left him just six strokes adrift of Frenchman Michael Lorenzo-Vera (73) and sharing eighth place with former North of Ireland champion Gareth Maybin (73) on two-under par.
Without a category on the Challenge Tour, Kehoe is battling for every cent this week and while he knows he may need “a couple of low ones” to grab his first professional victory, his hunger for the game has been sharpened after his Carnoustie experience.
Kehoe said: “I learned that making a living on tour is not beyond me. It gave me great inspiration, great motivation, just to see that while the tour players are very good, it is not an unattainable standard by any stretch of the imagination.
"Harrington is the best inspiration. He has come through the exact same system as I have and lot of the other lads here and it is great motivation for the rest of us."
Overnight leader Lorenzo-Vera extended his lead at the top to three shots after a battling 73 on a day when 37-year-old Welshman Liam Bond chipped in twice on his way to an outstanding six-under par 66 that earned him a share second place with Swede Magnus Carlsson on five-under par.
Alabama-based Maybin - who has made over $175,000 in three seasons on the satellite Hooters Tour - is toying with the idea of a return to Europe after jumping to 107th in the rankings with a share of third place in Wales last week.
Just eight of the 34 Irish entrants made the three-over par cut with Irish PGA champion David Mortimer is the next best of the home brigade on one-under par after a 71. Glasson’s Colm Moriarty survived by a shot after a 74 with Michael Hoey making it on the mark after an 18-foot par save at the last gave him a 73.