AIG Irish Close: Cream rising despite high profile exits
Eoin Leonard (Wentworth) driving at the 17th tee at the AIG 2018 Irish Amateur Close Championship at The European Club. Picture by  Pat Cashman

Eoin Leonard (Wentworth) driving at the 17th tee at the AIG 2018 Irish Amateur Close Championship at The European Club. Picture by Pat Cashman

The European Club is living up to its reputation as a cradle of champions after a constellation of stars made it to the last 16 of the AIG Irish Amateur Close yesterday.

While recently crowned South of Ireland champion Caolan Rafferty fell to the promising 21-year-old Killiney, Wentworth and Yale player Eoin Leonard by one hole and Douglas international Peter O'Keeffe defeated Kinsale's St Andrews Links Trophy winner John Murphy 3 and 1, there is no shortage of firepower in today's third round draw.

Hermitage's Rowan Lester is determined to make up for his heart-stopping 20th hole lost to Rafferty in the South of Ireland final but he faces a tough third-round clash with international team-mate Alex Gleeson, who is joined in the last 16 by clubmates Jack Walsh, who faces O'Keeffe and Robert Moran, who takes on Laytown and Bettystown's Eugene Smith.

Having briefly toyed with the idea of sitting out the "Close" to recharge for next weekend's Mullingar Scratch Trophy, Lester quickly changed his mind.

"I was thinking what else am I going to do?" said the 22-year-old Texas Wesleyan star, who had to dig deep to beat Rosslare's Mark Mullen by two holes and Royal Portrush's Peter Kerr 2 and 1. 

"I may as well try and go get a win after last week. It would really make up for it."

With a two-club wind blowing, Lester was relieved to birdie the 17th after a hitting a stunning, 168-yard seven iron to 10 feet and avoid any repeat of the late drama he suffered at Lahinch.

As for O’Keeffe, he’s hoping to add the “Close” to last year’s Irish Amateur Open triumph and after he beat one of the favourites in Kinsale’s John Murphy, the reigning St Andrews Links Trophy winner, he believes he can reproduce his 2017 form.

"I’d love it," O'Keeffe said of the Open-Close double last completed by Padraig Harrington in 1995. "That’s obviously in my head. I’ve been playing nicely all year, I just haven’t been getting anything out of it." 

There is no shortage of winners in the last 16 with Mallow's James Sugrue set to face fellow South of Ireland winner Conor Purcell and two-time "major" winner Robbie Cannon from Balbriggan, through to face Rosslare's Gary Collins.

Leonard — a former Leinster Boys, Surrey Boys and South of England Boys champion — who has qualified for next week's US Amateur at Pebble Beach after a strong season with Yale, meets Dungarvan's Kevin Stack following his stunning win over Rafferty.

Two down after 13 holes with Rafferty seven feet away on the 14th, he holed an 18 footer for the win there, squared the match when the Dundalk man flew the 16thgreen and had to take a drop and then went one up at the 17th when he holed from five feet after Rafferty had missed from six.

Leading qualifier Ronan Mullarney also cruised into the third round but there was no dream finish for 15-year-old Joseph Byrne from Baltinglass, who lost on the 21st to Tandragee’s Ross Dutton, who now faces Marc McCormack from US club Moss Creek.

AIG Irish Amateur Close, The European Club

Round Three - Tuesday, 7 August

  1. R Mullarney (Galway) v D Brophy (Castleknock)
  2. G Collins (New Ross) v R Cannon (Balbriggan)
  3. R Lester (Hermitage) v A Gleeson (Castle)
  4. P O'Keeffe (Douglas) v J Walsh (Castle)
  5. C Purcell (Portmarnock) v J Sugrue (Mallow)
  6. R Moran (Castle) v E Smith (L'town & B'town)
  7. E Leonard (Wentworth) v K Stack (Dungarvan)
  8. M McCormack (Moss Creek)v R Dutton (Tandragee).

Round Two - Monday, 6 August

  1. R Mullarney (Galway) bt P McKeever (Castle) 2&1;
  2. D Brophy (Castleknock) bt P O'Connor (Macroom) 5&4;
  3. G Collins (New Ross) bt M Ryan (New Ross) 2&1;
  4. R Cannon (Balbriggan) bt M McKinstry (Cairndhu) 5&4;
  5. R Lester (Hermitage) bt P Kerr (Royal Portrush) 2&1;
  6. A Gleeson (Castle) bt S Carter (Royal Dublin) 2&1;
  7. P O'Keeffe (Douglas) bt J Murphy (Kinsale) 3&1;
  8. J Walsh (Castle) bt C Woodroofe (Dun Laoghaire) 1 hole;
  9. C Purcell (Portmarnock) bt J McDonnell (Forrest Little) 4&3;
  10. J Sugrue (Mallow) bt N McCann (Lurgan) 1 hole;
  11. R Moran (Castle) bt H Gillivan (Westport) 2&1;
  12. E Smith (L'town & B'town) bt TJ Ford (Co Sligo) 3&2;
  13. E Leonard (Wentworth) bt C Rafferty (Dundalk) 1 hole;
  14. K Stack (Dungarvan) bt P Connolly (Killeen Castle) 1 hole;
  15. M McCormack (Moss Creek) bt S Walsh (Portmarnock) 2&1;
  16. R Dutton (Tandragee) bt J Byrne (Baltinglass) 21st.

Round One - Monday, 6 August

  1. R Mullarney (Galway) bt K Murphy (Dun Laoghaire) 4&3;
  2. P McKeever (Castle) bt M Boucher (Carton House) 3&1;
  3. P O'Connor (Macroom) bt J McCabe (Roganstown) 1 hole;
  4. D Brophy (Castleknock) bt J Rowe (Tandragee) 5&4;
  5. M Ryan (New Ross) bt C O'Connor (Corrstown) 5&4;
  6. G Collins (New Ross) bt R O'Connor 2&1;
  7. M McKinstry (Cairndhu) bt P Coughlan (Castleknock) 6&5;
  8. R Cannon (Balbriggan) bt R Williamson (Holywood) 4&2;
  9. P Kerr (Royal Portrush) bt M Norton (Belvoir Park) 3&2;
  10. R Lester (Hermitage) bt M Mullen (Rosslare) 2 holes;
  11. S Carter (Royal Dublin) bt N Hearns (Mountrath) 2&1;
  12. A Gleeson (Castle) bt J Lyons (Galway) 3&2;
  13. P O'Keeffe (Douglas) bt N Crawford (Mourne) 1 hole;
  14. J Murphy (Kinsale) bt G Cullen (Beaverstown) 7&6;
  15. J Walsh (Castle) bt R Latimer (Knock) 19th;
  16. C Woodroofe (Dun Laoghaire) bt G Lenehan (Portmarnock) 2 holes;
  17. C Purcell (Portmarnock) bt T Neenan (Lahinch) 6&5;
  18. J McDonnell (Forrest Little) bt S McDermott (Co Cavan) 1 hole;
  19. N McCann (Lurgan) bt O Devereux (Carton House) 19th;
  20. J Sugrue (Mallow) bt D Lowry (Corrstown) 5&4;
  21. H Gillivan (Westport) bt M McClean (Malone) 6&4;
  22. R Moran (Castle) bt S Irwin (Killeen) 5&3;
  23. E Smith (L'town & B'town) bt T Plunkett (Crover House) 2&1;
  24. TJ Ford (Co Sligo) bt H Foley (Royal Dublin) 1 hole;
  25. C Rafferty (Dundalk) bt O Crooks (3&1);
  26. E Leonard (Wentworth) bt J Blake (The Island) 3&2;
  27. P Connolly (Killeen Castle) bt A Fahy (Dun Laoghaire) 20th;
  28. K Stack (Dungarvan) bt A Smith (Mullingar) 2&1;
  29. S Walsh (Portmarnock) bt G Ward (Kinsale) 20th;
  30. M McCormack (Moss Creek) bt C Geraghty (L'town & B'town) 2&1;
  31. R Dutton (Tandragee) bt C Butler (Kinsale) 3&2;
  32. J Byrne (Baltinglass) bt J Hickey (Cork) 3&1.