Irish champion Shane Lowry dodged a bullet with a dramatic 20th hole win over Ryan Boal in the quarter-finals of the West of Ireland Amateur Championship at sun-blessed Rosses Point yesterday.
But the 20-year-old from Esker Hills must do it all again when he takes on Galway's Eddie McCormack in the first of this morning’s semi-finals with the full weight of expectation on his young shoulders.
Two up with six to play against the Dublin-based UIsterman, Lowry lost the 13th to a birdie and then wobbled ominously with sloppy bogeys and the 14th and 17th before retrieving the situation like a true champion at the death.
One down playing the last, he fired a 90-yard wedge to 30 feet and rammed home the putt to extend the match before winning with a par-four at the 20th as Boal three-putted from a precarious position, 25 feet above the hole.
“I thought it had slipped away from me at that stage because Ryan was holing putt after putt,” said a relieved Lowry of his bogey five at the 17th left him teetering on the brink of defeat. “I just couldn’t shrug him off.
“But at the last I saw the line, just outside the right and the only thing I didn’t want to do was leave it short. When stuff like that happens it is almost meant to happen.
“I am probably am expected to win now but there is nothing I can do about that. I just have to keep playing the way I am playing. There is an expectation there because I am the Irish champion but it comes with the territory.”
Boal described his defeat as “cruel” and confessed that he had flashbacks of his first round defeat to Rory McIlroy three years ago, when the teen sensation birdied the last two holes to force extra holes and eventually beat him on the 20th.
McIlroy’s name came up again and again in the post-round comments but McCormack, a 35-year-old Cavan native, believes he learnt a lot from his defeat to the Holywood teenager in the 2005 Irish Close final at Westport.
“I’ll know what to expect in terms of crowds,” said Cavan-born McCormack following his 4 and 3 win over the K Club’s Michael Lavelle. “I learnt a lot from that and today I just got the job done - Faldo-style. I was hitting it in the middle of the greens and not acting the maggot.”
Both semi-finals feature full-time amateurs against true part-timers with The Curragh’s Paul O’Hanlon the clear favourite against Mullingar sports retailer Dessie Morgan at a magnificently presented County Sligo links.
Beaten by McIlroy in the final of the 2006 ‘West’, 22-year-old O’Hanlon has decided to dedicate himself to the game full-time this year before deciding if he is good enough to test it at the European Tour’s Qualifying School in the autumn.
Yesterday, he came from behind not once but twice, winning five holes in a row from the 11th to beat leading qualifier Andrew Hogan 4 and 3 before grinding out a 2 and 1 win over the highly-fancied English raider Jonathan Hurst in the afternoon.
Hurst succeeded in ending local interest in the championship with a one-hole win over Co Sligo’s Gary McDermott in the morning - the local man losing the 17th to a par and then three-putting from just 12 feet for another bogey at the last when a two-putt par would have been enough to force extra holes.
“After losing in 2006, I kind of know what it is all about,” said Ireland international O’Hanlon. “Coming here I had no real expectations but as the tournament has gone on I have gotten better and better.”
Following wins over David Downie and Michael Sinclair, Morgan has slipped almost unnoticed into the last four to notch his first semi-final appearance since he lost to Mark O'Sullivan in the Irish Close at Tramore in 2003.
He’s yet to earn an appearance in that coveted Irish jersey but winning some silverware today be a huge step in the right direction.
Assessing what it all means, Morgan said: “Representative golf is a huge, huge honour. But getting your name on a trophy is something that lasts forever. ”
Radisson SAS West of Ireland Championship, County Sligo GC
E McCormack (Galway) bt J Fox (Portmarnock) 1 hole;
M Lavelle (K Club) bt A McCloy (Ballymena) 4/3;
R Boal (Castle) bt J Monaghan (The Island) 3/2;
S Lowry (Esker Hills) bt B Cashman (Belvoir Park) 7/5;
J Hurst (Shawhill, UK) bt G McDermott (Co. Sligo) 1 hole;
P O’Hanlon (Curragh) bt A Hogan (Newlands) 4/3;
M Sinclair (Knock) bt P Cutler (Portstewart) 4/3;
D Morgan (Mullingar) bt D Downie (Sutton) 3/2.
E McCormack bt M Lavelle 4/3;
S Lowry bt R Boal 20th;
P O’Hanlon bt J Hurst 2/1;
D Morgan bt M Sinclair 3/2.
Semi-finals: (8.00) McCormack v Lowry; (8.15) O’Hanlon v Morgan. Final: (1.30).