Douglas’ Peter O’Keeffe took advantage of ideal early morning scoring conditions to fire a ”stress-free” five-under par 66 and take a two-stroke lead over Belvoir Park’s Marc Norton after the first qualifying round for the AIG Irish Amateur Close Championship at The European Club.
The 36-year-old former Challenge Tour professional, who returned to the amateur ranks last year and won the Flogas Irish Amateur Open at Royal County Down to secure his first cap at the Home Internationals, hit lots of two-irons off the tee and birdied the fifth and sixth before finishing strongly with birdies at the 15th, 17th and 18th.
"It was just a stress-free round of golf," said O'Keeffe, who has a legitimate claim to one of the two remaining places in the three-strong Irish team that will be picked for the Eisenhower Trophy next week.
"I just hit the ball really well off the tee — lots of two-irons— holed a few putts early on and then birdied three of the last four for 66.
"I just kept hitting good shots. I think I only missed one green on the way around. It's been coming for a few weeks. I really feel like my swing has been coming around so I just kept nice and calm."
Ireland's third highest ranked player on WAGR behind Robin Dawson and Caolan Rafferty at 84th and 12th in the Bridgestone Order of Merit (he could theoretically still make the top two automatic picks for the Home Internationals if he wins on Wednesday, though the top four on WAGR also make the team), the big Corkman could be an asset in a 72-hole strokeplay competition like the Eisenhower Trophy if he finds top form.
"I knew there was chances coming in on the back nine and I hit a great tee shot down 18, which left me a wedge in there," he added. "It was nice to take advantage of that as well. I know I am playing well but all year I have either not being holing putts or been a bit loose in the swing.
"But it now feels like it is all coming together and I am just going to keep doing what I am doing and see what happens."
US collegiate based Ulsterman Norton, a beaten semi-finalist at Galway Golf Club last year, also went bogey-free for his 68 to sit alone in second in the race to make the top 64 qualifiers for the matchplay stages on Monday.
Despite calm conditions, just seven players broke par on Pat Ruddy’s Brittas Bay links where the GUI pushed up several tees, reducing the course to around 7,000 yards.
Favourites such as Portmarnock’s Conor Purcell (70), South of Ireland champion Caolan Rafferty (71), Galway’s Ronan Mullarney (72) or Mallow’s James Sugrue (73) fared well.
West of Ireland champion Robert Brazill from Naas, Castle’s Alex Gleeson and Kinsale’s John Murphy are tied 26th after 74s with Hermitage international Rowan Lester a shot further back after a 75.
Runner-up in the South of Ireland last weekend, Lester was just one over with three holes to go before he ran up a quadruple bogey eight at the treacherous seventh. But he bounced back immediately, undoing some of the damage with a birdie at the eighth before signing for a four-over-par round.
There was also a hole in one for Glasson’s Conor Glennon at the sixth, which measures 190- yards from the championship tee.
AIG Irish Amateur Close Championship, The European Club (Par 71
66 P O'Keeffe (Douglas)
68 M Norton (Belvoir Park)
69 M Boucher (Carton House)
70 C Purcell (Portmarnock); R O'Connor (Co. Sligo); S Carter (Royal Dublin); R Moran (Castle)
71 C Rafferty (Dundalk); O Devereux (Carton House); R Dutton (Tandragee); G Collins (Rosslare); G Ward (Kinsale)
72 A Smith (Mullingar); J Walsh (Castle); W Small (Tandragee); E Smith (Laytown & Bettystown); R Williamson (Holywood); C Geraghty (Laytown & Bettystown); R Mullarney (Galway)
73 J Knipe (Royal Portrush); J Sugrue (Mallow); N Hearns (Mountrath); P Connolly (Killeen Castle); P Coughlan (Castleknock); A Fahy (Dun Laoghaire)
74 J McDonnell (Forrest Little); P McKeever (Castle); M Ryan (New Ross); N McCann (Lurgan); T Ford (Co. Sligo); D Brophy (Castleknock); C Ryan (Dun Laoghaire); H O'Hare (Fortwilliam); R Latimer (Knock ); R Brazill (Naas); G Lenehan (Portmarnock); A Gleeson (Castle); J Murphy (Kinsale); D O'Neill (Carton House)
75 R Lester (Hermitage); J Rowe (Tandragee); J McCabe (Roganstown); J Blake (The Island); J Greene (Portmarnock); S Watts (Cairndhu ); M Mullen (Rosslare); J Hickey (Cork); P O'Connor (Macroom); C Woodroofe (Dun Laoghaire); M McClean (Malone); C Butler (Kinsale); N Crawford (Mourne); S Walsh (Portmarnock)
76 T Neenan (Lahinch); K Lynch (Skibbereen); K Murphy (Dun Laoghaire); G Cullen (Beaverstown); H Gillivan (Westport); S Irwin (Killeen); J Byrne (Baltinglass); M McCormack (Moss Creek); E Leonard (Wentworth )
77 H Foley (Royal Dublin); R Steedman (Courtown); C O'Connor (Corrstown); O Crooks (Bushfoot); D Lowry (Corrstown); D Holland (Castle)
78 G Carr (Mullingar); M McKinstry (Cairndhu); R Cannon (Balbriggan); T Plunkett (Crover House); D Flynn (Carton House); A McCormack (Castletroy); P Brennan (Belvoir Park); A Ryan (Thurles); R Berkeley (Dun Laoghaire); J Lyons (Galway)
79 E Griffin (Waterford); S Lindsay (Ardglass); J Fox (Portmarnock); M McHugh (Abu Dhabi National); J Conroy (Portmarnock); M Looby (Greystones); G Fitzmaurice (Balcarrick); M Tyndall (Coyote Creek); G O'Mahony (Fota Island); R McKeever (Castle)
80 P Kerr (Royal Portrush); T Beaumont (Bangor); N Gaffney (Greystones); R Black (Hilton Templepatrick); R Knightly (Royal Dublin); S McDermott (Co. Cavan); S Myatt (Ennis); K Murray (Charlesland); K Stack (Dungarvan); R Abernethy (Dun Laoghaire); D Smith (Newlands); D Crawford (Bundoran); M Nolan (Dun Laoghaire)
81 D Joyce (Powerscourt); J Madden (Royal Portrush); E Goggin (Tralee); E O'Brien (Clontarf); M Buggy (Castlecomer); D Coyle (Portmarnock); L Hutchinson (Royal Dublin); R McCormack (Palmerstown House Estate); J McCarthy (Stackstown)
82 C Feeney (Co. Sligo); M McKenna (Dun Laoghaire); A Crinion (Newlands); J Whelan (Newlands); J Keane (Lahinch); R Pierse (Grange); E Rumley (Kinsale); J Maginn (Mourne)
83 M Burke (Galway); C Dowling (Mallow); I Collins (Bray); J Hanney (The Island); D Pollock (Belvoir Park)
84 E Farrell (Ardee); M Shiel (Galway Bay); S Walsh (Carton House); S Crilly (Wembley (Au)); S Flanagan (Co. Sligo); C Glennon (Glasson)
85 T Collins (Dun Laoghaire); R O'Doherty (Enniscrone); J McGrath (Dun Laoghaire); M Kennelly (Galway Bay)
86 C French (Carton House); M Healy (Kinsale)
87 E McKeever (Castle); C Coghlan (Newlands); S Carroll (Castle Dargan)
88 W Russell (Clandeboye)
90 R Connolly (Grange)
91 J Tuohy (Galway Bay)
WD L McMillan (Luttrellstown Castle)
RTD D Rochford (Bray)
NR G McGrane (Royal Dublin)