Top gun Sugrue dodges bullet
 James Sugrue. Picture: Niall O'Shea

James Sugrue. Picture: Niall O'Shea

Self-belief and persistence proved invaluable to defending champion James Sugrue as he battled back from the brink to win at the 22nd and keep his title hopes alive South of Ireland Amateur Open at Lahinch.

On a day when Castle's Alex Gleeson and Naas' Jonathan Yates bowed out of the Pierse Motors Volkswagen sponsored championship, the 22-year-old Mallow star knows he may have to become the first man for 55 years to retain the title if he wants to force his way into the Irish team for next month's Home Internationals.

After beating Royal Portrush's Jack Madden 3 and 1 in round one, he had to come back from two down with three to play against Knock's Ross Latimer in the afternoon to force extra holes before eventually winning on the fourth tie hole.

He won the 16th in par and the 18th with a birdie to draw level, then dodged a bullet at the 19th, racing his third from the back of the green more than 20 feet past the hole before making the return.

After halving the 20th in birdie, he watched Latimer salvage a half from eight feet at the 21st before chipping to three feet to set up a winning birdie four at the Klondyke during a heavy downpour.

"I didn't think I'd get that far, to be honest," said a relieved Sugrue. "When I was two down with three to play I thought I was in trouble because I was two or three under but he was holing putt after putt.

"I felt I was playing too solidly and would have been disappointed to lose. But I eventually hit a few good shots and closed it out."

Set to face Forrest Little's Jack McDonnell in the last 16 today, he added: "The furthest I went in any match last year was the 18th in the first round, so it's a relief, absolutely.

"I'll try now to make sure I just take it one shot at a time and not get ahead of myself because if you start looking ahead, that's when you get in trouble."

Sugrue is joined in the third round by Douglas' Peter O'Keeffe, who fell to the Mallow player in last year's semi-finals.

The 36-year-old Corkman was two down after 12 holes to Dun Laoghaire's Marc Nolan in the morning but played the back nine in five-under par to win by two holes.

In the afternoon he was up against the South Africa visitor Gregory Royston but this time he controlled the ball beautifully all the way through to win 3 and 2.

Three up after nine, he went five up after 11 holes, but after losing the 12th, 13th and 15th to birdies, the Blackpool based strength and conditioning coach won the 16th to close out the match 3&2.

Kilkenny's Mark Power, 2016 runner-up Rowan Lester from Hermitage and Dundalk's Caolan Rafferty were all impressive in the afternoon as they cruised through.

Lester, the beaten finalist two years ago, beat Birr's Michael Horan 3/2 in the first round before playing the first five holes on the back nine in six-under-par to beat Laytown and Bettystown's David Foy 6 and 4 with the highlight a three-wood to eight feet that set up an eagle two at the risk-reward 13th.

"I'm loving it," Lester said of his life in the US, where he plays collegiate golf for Texas Wesleyan. "It's the place to be. Just being able to play competitive golf all winter and putt on good greens has really helped me improve."

If Lester was happy, there was disappointment for an out-of-sorts Gleeson as he fell behind early and lost 4 and 3 to Carton House's Keith Egan.

As for fellow senior panellist Yates, he had a battle to edge in front of Dun Laoghaire's Alan Fahy but walked away the loser as Fahy birdied the 16th, 17th and 18th to turn the match around.

There are four senior championship winners left in the draw and they include Reece Black, who is making his first appearance in the South.

The Hilton Templepatrick talent (19) beat Portmarnock's Darragh Coughlan 2&1 before seeing off Castle's Peter McKeever 3& 2 to set up a last 16 clash with the tall Corkman, John Hickey.

"I'm playing really solid and not making many mistakes," said Black, who won last year's East of Ireland championship. 

"The putter has been working pretty well and that's been key. On the 15th this afternoon I had a 15 footer for par and I knocked it in to go dormie. 

"Then I hit a great seven iron into the 16th and lagged it up for the win. I'm playing well and I love matchplay because if you have one bad hole, you can always get it back quickly."

South of Ireland Amateur Open, sponsored by Pierse Motors Volkswagen, Lahinch GC

Round One

  1. R Mullarney (Galway) bt M Reddan (Limerick) 7/6; 
  2. E Smith (Laytown/B’town) bt J Kehoe (Limerick) 3/2;
  3. G Royston (Cotswold Downs LC, South Africa) bt D Brophy (Castleknock) 3/1; 
  4. P O’Keeffe (Douglas) bt M Nolan (Dun Laoghaire) 2H; 
  5. J McDonnell (Forrest Little) bt M Kalfjall (Wasby, Sweeden)  3/2; 
  6. H Foley (Royal Dublin)  bt P Connolly (Killeen Castle) 7/5; 
  7. R Latimer (Knock)  bt R Williamson (Holywood) 2/1; 
  8. J Sugrue (Mallow) bt J Madden (Royal Portrush) 3/1; 
  9. R Black (Hilton Templepatrick) bt D Coghlan (Portmarnock) 2/1; 
  10. P McKeever (Castle) bt J Ryan (Castletroy) 20th; 
  11. J Hickey (Cork) bt M Norton (Belvoir Park) 1H; 
  12. R Moran (Castle) bt T Clarke (Royal Portrush) 1H; 
  13. T Neenan (Lahinch) bt C Butler (Kinsale) 3/1; 
  14. J Blake (The Island) bt H Duggan (Kilkenny) 1H; 
  15. D Foy (Laytown/B’town) bt R Abernethy (Dun Laoghaire) 4/3; 
  16. R Lester (Hermitage)  bt M Horan (Birr) 3/2; 
  17. J Yates (Naas) bt F O’Sullivan (Tralee) 2/1; 
  18. A Fahy (Dun Laoghaire) bt P Kerr (Royal Portrush) 19th; 
  19. S Desmond (Monkstown) bt N Carroll (Galway Bay) 3/2; 
  20. G O’Flaherty (Cork) bt M McKinstry (Cairndhu) 1H; 
  21. R O’Connor (Co Sligo) bt T McLarnon (Massereene) 3/2; 
  22. A McCormack (Castletroy) bt J Fox (Portmarnock) 5/4;
  23. S Watts (Cairndhu) bt M O’Kelly (Limerick)  4/3; 
  24. M Power (Kilkenny) bt M Boucher (Carton House) 2/1;
  25. A Gleeson (Castle) bt S Greenberg (Tandragee) 6/5; 
  26. K Egan (Carton House) bt M McClean (Malone) 2/1; 
  27. A Ryan (Thurles) bt P Coughlan (Castleknock) 4/3;
  28. P Murphy (Rosslare) bt R Cannon (Balbriggan) 5/4; 
  29. M McCormack (Moss Creek, USA) bt J Rackard (Enniscorthy) 2/1;
  30. R Dutton (Tandragee) bt G Ward (Kinsale) 20th;
  31. E Griffin (Waterford) bt R McKeever (Castle) 3/2;
  32. C Rafferty (Dundalk) bt N Hearns (Mountrath) 6/4.

Round Two

  1. E Smith (Laytown/B’town) bt R Mullarney (Galway) 2/1;
  2. P O’Keeffe (Douglas) bt G Royston (Cotswold Downs, RSA) 3/2;
  3. J McDonnell (Forrest Little) bt H Foley (Royal Dublin) 4/3;
  4. J Sugrue (Mallow) bt R Latimer (Knock) 22nd;
  5. R Black (Hilton Templepatrick) bt P McKeever (Castle) 3/2
  6. J Hickey (Cork) bt R Moran (Castle) 3/2;
  7. J Blake (The Island) bt T Neenan (Lahinch) 1H; 
  8. R Lester (Hermitage) bt D Foy (Laytown/B’town) 6/4;
  9. A Fahy (Dun Laoghaire)  bt J Yates (Naas) 1H;
  10. G O’Flaherty (Cork) bt S Desmond (Monkstown) 3/2 
  11. A McCormack (Castletroy) bt R O’Connor (Co Sligo) 5/3;
  12. M Power (Kilkenny) bt S Watts (Cairndhu) 4/3;
  13. K Egan (Carton House) bt A Gleeson (Castle) 4/3; 
  14. P Murphy (Rosslare) bt A Ryan (Thurles) 1H; 
  15. R Dutton (Tandragee) bt M McCormack (Moss Creek, USA) 1H;
  16. C Rafferty (Dundalk) bt E Griffin (Waterford) 4/3.

Today

Round three

  1. (0800) E Smith (Laytown/B’town) v P O’Keeffe (Douglas);
  2. (0812) J McDonnell (Forrest Little) v J Sugrue (Mallow);
  3. (0824) R Black (Hilton Templepatrick) v J Hickey (Cork);
  4. (0836) J Blake (The Island) v R Lester (Hermitage);
  5. (0848) A Fahy (Dun Laoghaire) v G O’Flaherty (Cork);
  6. (0900) A McCormack (Castletroy) v M Power (Kilkenny);
  7. (0912) K Egan (Carton House) v P Murphy (Rosslare);
  8. (0924) R Dutton (Tandragee) v C Rafferty (Dundalk).