F is for Fox. James Fox during the Close last week. Picture by Pat CashmanPortmarnock’s James Fox bounced back from two early bogeys when he fired two eagles in a six under 66 to take a three-stroke clubhouse lead in the East of Ireland Amateur Open at County Louth.

But the 29 year old financial analyst, who was one of the early starters in a brisk 15 mph breeze, played down his chances of following in the footsteps of his brother Noel, now a professional, who won the last of his three East of Ireland titles in 2002.

“No-one really cares who is leading a marathon after the first round but it’s a good score,” said James who was on the bag for his brother’s impressive five shot win a decade ago. “Noel offered to caddie for me but I had already made other arrangements. I’m very happy with my score. I got got some good breaks and I was able to capitalise on them.”

Fox toyed flirted briefly with thoughts of trying the professional game a few years ago but having found a full-time job in Dublin, he’s set his sights on adding to his two Leinster Interprovincial appearances and possibly challenging for an Irish cap some day.

“I am playing pretty well so I am looking forward to the British Amateur in two weeks and that’s the highlight of my year,” added Fox, who was undone by a second round 82 in the Irish Close at Royal Portrush last week. “I am looking forward to that. I played great for three rounds in the Close and poorly in the second and shot 10 over. The other three I played well.”

Starting on the back nine, he bogeyed the 12th and 13th to slip to two over but picked up four shots over the last four holes with birdies at the 15th (eight iron 12 feet) and 17th (seven iron to 20 feet) and an eagle three at the downwind 18th, where he hit a rescue to two feet.

A bogey at the first, where he missed the green to the right with a five iron, proved to be only a temporary setback as he stormed home in 33 for a three-shot lead over Greenore’s Caolan Rafferty (69) with Mullingar’s Dessie Morgan, Royal Dublin’s Gary McGrane, Bangor’s Patrick Small and Forrest Little’s Allan Kiernan four off the pace after 70’s.

After a two putt birdies at the par-five second and third holes, Fox completed a birdie hat-trick when he hit a wedge to six feet at the fourth to get to four under and then eagled the sixth from 30 feet following a three-wood to the front edge.

Co Sligo’s Gary McDermott had to settle for a 74 after being penalised two strokes for being late for his tee-time. The international thought he was off at 9.33am but arrived at the club to discover it was 8.33. He barely avoided disqualification despite hastily abandoning his car and sprinting for the tee.

Defending champion Richard O’Donovan of Lucan hit a 71 in the afternoon to join Balbriggan’s Robbie Cannon, Cork’s Gary O’Flaherty, Killeen Castle’s Rick Weldon, Tullamore’s Stuart Grehan, Knock’s Colin Fairweather, Galway’s Eddie McCormack, Baltray’s Simon Ward, Co Sligo’s Barry Anderson and Conor O’Rourke of Naas on one-under.

Conditions were tougher in the afternoon with Irish Amateur Close winner Chris Selfridge from Moyola Park signing for a two over 74 and 17-year old Gavin Moynihan of The Island, the Irish Amateur Open winner, posting a three over 75.

East of Ireland Amateur Open, Co Louth (Par 72)

First round (SSS 74; CSS 74)

66 J Fox (Portmarnock)

69 C Rafferty (Greenore)

70 D Morgan (Mullingar), P Small (Bangor), G McGrane (The Royal Dublin), A Kiernan (Forrest Little)

71 E McCormack (Galway), S Ward (Co. Louth), R Cannon (Balbriggan), G O Flaherty (Cork), B Anderson (Co. Sligo/NUIM), R O’Donovan (Lucan), R Weldon (Killeen Castle), C O’Rourke (Naas/NUIM), S Grehan (Tullamore), C Fairweather (Knock)

72 M McKnight (LPGA International, Fla.), I Brennan (Greenore), S O’Connor (Skerries), P Murray (Limerick), P O’Kane (Moyola Park), M Durcan (Co. Sligo), S Dwyer (Lucan)

73 M McAlpin (Royal Portrush), N Gorey (Muskerry), J Hume (Rathsallagh), D Downie (Sutton), J Yates (Naas), J Hanby (Castle), S O’Hara (Co. Sligo), W Hanna (Kilkeel), M Kane (Whitehead), G Lenehan (Portmarnock), S Smyth (Co. Louth), C Campbell (Warrenpoint)

74 G Bohill (Co. Louth), A Condren (Greystones), G Dunne (Seapoint), E Arthurs (Forrest Little), M Shanahan (Castlemartyr), C Doran (Banbridge), G Hurley (West Waterford), C Selfridge (Moyola Park), B Walton (The Island), R Whitson (Mourne), J Richardson (Royal Portrush), J Lyons (Birr), R Kenny (Naas/NUIM), P McBride (The Island), G McDermott (Co. Sligo), M O’Toole (Lucan), S Doherty (Ballyliffin), J Carvill (Banbridge), S Cannon (Loughrea), S Bryan (Delgany), M Buggy (Castlecomer), N Grant (Knock)

75 G Moynihan (The Island), L Ashby (Killerig), C Molloy (Ardee), R McKinstry (Cairndhu), S Ryan (The Royal Dublin), I O’Rourke (Cork), C Carroll (Shandon Park), D Coyle (Co. Louth), R McNamara (Headfort), H Diamond (Belvoir Park), S Coulter (Warrenpoint), R Bridges (Stackstown), B Casey (Headfort), A Hogan (Newlands), M O’Rourke (Royal Tara), R Neville (The Links Portmarnock), D O’Donovan (Muskerry)

76 T O’Leary (Wexford), P McKeever (Castle), J Whelan (Newlands), M Mullen (Wexford), A Kelly (Muskerry), D O’Neill (Carton House), R Farrell (New Ross), T McLarnon (Massereene), D McCusker (Moyola Park), T Kelly (Balcarrick), S Brady (Co. Sligo/NUIM), K Crowley (Lee Valley), S Healy (Claremorris), J Greene (Portmarnock), M Brett (Portmarnock), J Pierse (Grange), M Collins (Mahon), N Beirth (Co. Louth)

77 J Hopkins (Skerries), D Murray (Skerries), P Cullen (Royal Tara), S McGlynn (Carton House), A Dowling (Hermitage), P McCrudden (Royal Portrush), T O’Connor (Athlone)

78 C Glynn (Carton House), S McConnell (Ballyclare), D Loftus (Castlebar), R Gribben (Warrenpoint), E Smith (Ardee), M Wylie (Belvoir Park), Q Carew (Edenderry), N Steedman (Courtown), C Sharvin (Ardglass), R Young (Rosslare), T Coffey (Slieve Russell), P Coughlan (Moate), S Carter (Stackstown/NUIM)

79 D Byrne (Athenry), A Grant (Dundalk), G Collins (Rosslare), G McGee (Cypress Point), B Ronan (Co. Louth), D Coghlan (The Royal Dublin), M Sinclair (Knock), G Smyth (Clonmel), M Richards (Carton House), G Mungovan (Headfort), S Walsh (Portmarnock), B Corfee (EL Macero Country Club), J Hickey (Cork), E Murphy (Cork), D Corfee (EL Macero Country Club), D Holland (Castle)

80 S Egan (Castle Barna), C McGrogan (Newbridge), R Burke (Castle), A Kearney (Castlerock), J Sutherland (Galgorm Castle), K Purcell (Dun Laoghaire), K Stack (Dungarvan), B Daly (Edmondstown), C McKenna (Mallow), K McDonagh (Athlone)

81 M Reck (Lucan), K Dunne (New Ross), R Connolly (Rathsallagh), S Crowe (Dunmurry), C Martin (Kilkenny), D Lally (Mullingar), R O’ Dwyer (Callan)

82 A Lynch (Royal Tara), K Egan (Carton House), N McGlynn (Carton House), K Nolan (Charlesland), N Foley (The Island)

83 G Walsh (Mount Juliet), D O’Connor (Athlone)

85 B McCormack (Castle Barna)

86 G McAuley (Dunmurry)

87 B Fennelly (The Royal Dublin)

RTD G Lawlor (Newbridge)