Two late bloomers are hoping to end Ireland’s seven-year wait for a home winner when the AIB sponsored Irish Amateur Open Championship gets underway at Royal Dublin today.
Having broken his ‘major’ duck with victory in last season’s Irish Close at Enniscrone, Tipperary-born Pat Murray, the sweet swinging 38-year old from Limerick Golf Club, will be trying to complete a unique double by capturing the prestigious 72 hole strokeplay crown on Sunday.
A world class, 120-strong field has been assembled and while the cut off fell at an impressive plus 0.6, some late withdrawals have offered Ulsterman Rory Leonard the chance to rack up an incredible fifth successive victory this season.
The 34-year old from Banbridge finally made his championship breakthrough at Easter when he beat Cavan man Eddie McCormack 2 and 1 the West of Ireland final at Rosses Point.
He went to Sligo on a high, having captured the Lee Valley Scratch Cup, and his form since then has been stunning with victories coming thick and fast in the Dundalk Scratch Cup and last weekend’s Munster Strokeplay Championship.
Having scraped into the field as first reserve (such is the standard), Leonard knows he has his work cut out this weekend. Still, he is playing the best golf of his life and has every chance of becoming the first home-grown champion since Portmarnock’s Noel Fox lifted the trophy in 2003.
“It’s definitely the best run of form I have ever had,” Leonard said before heading out to practice yesterday. “I have been working hard on my game with Richard Kilpatrick and we’ve changed a few things in my swing. I have been playing well and it was great to get the win in the ‘West’ because I have had a few near misses.
“I had lost two finals, the ‘West’ in 1999 and the North in ‘2004’, and been runner up in a couple of big strokeplay events, including the ‘East’ back in 1996. But this is a big leap. The standard is so much higher this week and there are a lot of good overseas players here.
“I don’t know them all that well but the competition is top class. As well as that Royal Dublin is a much tougher test since they upgraded the course a few years ago, so a lot will depend on the weather.”
The forecast is three days of typical links conditions with winds expected to gust up to 28mph today and tomorrow.
“That’s just what I needed to hear,” joked Murray, who is the leading Irish player in handicap terms off plus 3.5. “I’m really looking forward to trying to do the Close-Open double. I’ll be back here to defend the ‘Close’ but it would be something special to win the Irish Amateur Open.
“I’ve had a few injuries that have cleared up and the game is in very good shape. With only 40 making the cut for the last 36 holes on Sunday, a good start will give you a very good chance of making a run.”
The event has attracted 58 overseas players from countries including Belgium, USA and Canada with England’s James Watts the low man in the field off plus 4.1.
Apart from Murray and Leonard, all of Ireland’s leading players are in action bar the recently crowned Lytham Trophy winner Paul Cutler from Portstewart, who was forced to withdraw with tendinitis in his left elbow earlier this week.
Cutler won by three strokes at Royal Lytham and St Annes from Scotland’s Kris Nicol, who will tee it up County Sligo’s Gary McDermott and 17-year old Irish Boys champion Paul Dunne, the highly promising Greystones starlet.
The field also features current South of Ireland champion Robbie Cannon, North of Ireland winner Wayne Telford and Irish Senior panel members Alan Dunbar, Michael Durcan, Colin Fairweather, Kelan McDonagh, Luke Lennox, Cian Curley, Dara Lernihan, the 2008 runner up Connor Doran and veteran Jim Carvill.
Castle star Lernihan and Newlands’ Andrew Hogan, who tied for eighth place behind Cutler at Royal Lytham, should know exactly how to tackle the links having played a practice round with 3 Irish Open champion Shane Lowry yesterday.
The Offaly star is on a break from the European Tour and he took time out to catch up with his former amateur pals, promising to return to Royal Dublin to watch the action over the weekend.
First played in 1892 and held every year with the exception of the War Years up to 1959, and revived in 1995, the Irish Amateur Open boasts an impressive list of former champions including Joe Carr (three times), Jimmy Bruen, Tom Craddock, Padraig Harrington, Michael Hoey, Louis Oosthuizen and Pedro Figueiredo.
Seven players are playing off plus 4 - Murray, Thomas Pieters (Belgium), Tomek Dogil (Germany), Jonathan Brain (USA), Chris Paisley (England, Christopher Mivis (Belgium) and Philip McLean (Scotland).
The leading 40 players after tomorrow’s second round will make the cut and play 36 holes on Sunday.
Mobile: + 353 86 811 42 18
AIB Irish Amateur Open, Royal Dublin GC
(07:30/10:48) A Dowling (Hermitage), R Megens (Bel), J Mulready (Castle);
(07:39/10:57) G Leahy (Okeeheelee), G Lawlor (Newbridge), M Buggy (Castlecomer);
(07:48/11:06) K Stack (Dungarvan), S O’Connor (Skerries), T O’Flynn (Fota Island);
(07:57/11:15) D Coyle (Co. Louth), K McDonagh (Athlone), J Monaghan (The Island);
(08:06/11:33) S Quy (Bel), J Evans (Eng), D O’Donovan (Muskerry);
(08:15/11:42) G D’Hulst (Bel), J Carvill (Warrenpoint), M Hammond (Moyola Park);
(08:24/11:51) J Richelle (Bel), C Doran (Banbridge), C Robb (Sco);
(08:33/12:00) J Findlay (Sco), R McNamara (Headfort), J McGinn (L’town & B’town);
(08:51/12:09) R Whitson (Mourne), K Benz (Swi), R Picone (Bel);
(09:00/12:18 D Kernohan (Galgorm Castle), M Southgate (Eng), H Satama (Fin);
(09:09/12:27) K Nicol (Sco), G McDermott (Co. Sligo), P Dunne (Greystones);
(09:18/12:36) JM Joia (Por), M Bookless (Sco), C Curley (Newlands);
(09:27/12:54) S Barry (Lee Valley), J Greene (Carlow), R Kellett (Sco);
(09:36/13:03) M Veijalainen (Fin), D Lernihan (Castle), J Brain (USA);
(09:45/13:12) C Paisley (Eng), C Mivis (Bel), P McLean (Sco);
(09:54/13:21 J White (Sco), P Murray (Limerick), O Farr (Wal);
(10:12/13:30) T Rodrigues (Por), T Pieters (Bel), V Dall’Arche (It);
(10:21/13:39) M Mullen (Wexford), A Dunbar (Rathmore), C Vigano (It);
(10:30/13:48) C Drumm (Rosslare), T Dogil (Germany), W Telford (Rathmore);
(10:39/13:57) F Bergamaschi (It), L Canter (Eng), F Fotheringham (Sco);
(10:48/07:30) A Lynch (Royal Tara), S McConnell (Ballyclare), C Daly (Castletroy);
(10:57/07:39) C Fairweather (Knock), I Brennan (Greenore), B Walton (The Island);
(11:06/07:48) M Shanahan (West Waterford), G Bohill (Co Louth), T McGowan (Strandhill);
(11:15/07:57) G Collins (Rosslare), A Culverwell (Sco), C Boggan (Co. Meath);
(11:33/08:06) R O’Donovan (Lucan), R Carter (Eng), G McGrane (Royal Dublin);
(11:42/08:15) M McKnight (Lisburn), R Roper (Eng), B Casey (Headfort);
(11:51/08:24) R O’Sullivan (Fota Island), O Sharp (Eng), J Hopkins (Skerries);
(12:00/08:33) A Kiernan (Forrest Little), B Dillon (Can), B Anderson (Co. Sligo);
(12:09/08:51) D McElroy (Ballymena), S Borrowman (Sco), S Binning (Sco);
(12:18/09:00) R McCarthy (The Island), O Gilmartin (Swi), Martyn Walsh (Eng);
(12:27/09:09) G O’Flaherty (Cork), A Pitcher (The Island), C Thomson (Sco);
(12:36/09:18) J Fox (Portmarnock), T Shadbolt (Eng), J Morris (Rosslare);
(12:54/09:27) E Arthurs (Forrest Little), M Kippen (Eng), G Paterson (Sco);
(13:03/09:36) R Leonard (Banbridge), A Hogan (Newlands), F McKenna (Sco);
(13:12/09:45) N Grant (Knock), E McCormack (Galway), J Martin (Eng);
(13:21/09:54 R Prophet (Eng), M Cunningham (Sco), L Lennox (Moyola Park);
(13:30/10:12) D Morgan (Mullingar), L Desmond (Eng), B Loughrey (Eng);
(13:39/10:21) R McConnell (Belvoir Park), CM Schroeder (Germany), R Cannon (L’town & B’town);
(13:48/10:30) N Gorey (Lee Valley), M Durcan (Co. Sligo), D Law (Sco);
(13.57/10.39) D Ruddy (Thurles), M Sinclair (Knock), P Shields (Sco).