Purcell hits classy 66 to lead the West
Conor Purcell. Picture by  Pat Cashman

Conor Purcell. Picture by Pat Cashman

Portmarnock’s Conor Purcell showed just why he’s ranked 26th in the world when he cruised him in 30 to open with a five-under 66 and take a one-stroke lead after the opening round of the Radisson Blu Hotel and Spa sponsored West of Ireland Championship at County Sligo.

Winner of the Australian Amateur Championship in December and one of Ireland’s leading contenders for a Walker Cup call-up this year, the 21-year old Dubliner leads the first stroke play staging of the “West” by one stroke from 17-year old Boys international Max Kennedy from Royal Dublin.

Defending champion Robert Brazill from Naas birdied the last three holes, reducing the fearsome 17th to a drive and wedge downwind, flying the hill with his drive as he posted a three-under 68 to share third place with Castleknock’s Paul Coughlan, who holed a seven-iron for an eagle two at the tough seventh.

“It’s a good start,” said Purcell, who turned in level par after following birdies at the second and fifth with bogeys at the sixth and eighth on a day when just nine players in the 132-strong field broke par in the race to make the 54-hole cut for the top 50 and ties tomorrow.

“I putted very well today, and I was very comfortable with my irons and didn’t hit too many bad tee shots. So once I was in position off the tee, I could get it on the green and give myself chances.

“I finished off nicely and shot five-under on the back nine which was good.”

The back nine was playing easier than the front yesterday and Purcell took advantage, holing a 25-footer at the 11th to dip into the red before two-putting the par-five 12th from 30 feet.

He then rolled in a 30 footer for a two at the 13th, hit an eight iron to 15 feet at the downwind 16th to set up another birdie two before slotting home a five-footer at the last.

“The putter was going well all day,” said Purcell, who is now playing golf full time. "We had a bad shower on seven when a bit of snow came down on us, and we took cover for a little bit.

“But it cleared up after that and was quite pleasant coming in. So I couldn’t really have asked for anything better.”

The 17th green with the newly extended portion visible on the left side of the picture

The 17th green with the newly extended portion visible on the left side of the picture

The 132-strong field enjoyed all four seasons in one as Rosses Point was bathed in sunshine and peppered with hailstones on a day when a northeast wind blew at 15 mph with the occasional gust over 25mph.

Kennedy made seven birdies in his 67 with dropped shots at the fourth, seventh and 10th cancelled out by birdies at the first, second, third, fifth, 11th, 12th and 15th.

“It was a good day at the office, and I've been playing a good bit of winter golf,” said the Dubliner, who made par putts from 10 feet and five feet on the last two greens

“I putted very well and hit a lot of shots close. After missing out on qualifying here by a shot last year, hopefully, I can make amends and give it a good run."

Brazill bogeyed the first but eagled the third after a seven iron to 12 feet but then three-putted the 13th to go back to level before finishing in style,

After making a six-footer for a two at the 16th, he carried his drive 312 yards over the hill at the 17th and hit a 138-yard wedge to 12 feet before knocking in an eight-footer at the last.

“It was a nice way to finish,” Brazill (22) said with a grin. “It would be lovely to defend the title because four rounds of stroke play wouldn’t be my forte. So it would be nice to be able to put four rounds together.”

West of Ireland Amateur Championship, County Sligo GC (Par 71)

Sponsored by Radisson Blu Hotel & Spa Sligo

After 18 holes

Detailed scores

66 C Purcell (Portmarnock);

67 M Kennedy (Royal Dublin);

68 R Brazill (Naas), P Coughlan (Castleknock) ;

69 A Edwards-Hill (Chelmsford), A Fahy (Dun Laoghaire), G Collins (Rosslare);

70 J McDonnell (Forrest Little), S Flanagan (Co. Sligo);

71 H Gillivan (Westport), E McCormack (Galway), J Cleary (Elm Park), C Rafferty (Dundalk), R Moran (Castle), R McNelis (Fintona), T Ford (Co. Sligo), N Hearns (Mountrath), G McDermott (Carton House), L O'Neill (Connemara);

72 J Sugrue (Mallow), D Flynn (Carton House), T McLarnon (Massereene), R Williamson (Holywood), J Stothers (Tandragee), E O'Brien (Clontarf), M O'Rourke (Royal Tara), R Mullarney (Galway), R O'Connor (Co. Sligo);

73 N Carroll (Athlone), B Best (Rathmore), R McCrudden (Royal Portrush), J Sabir (Moate), J Byrne (Baltinglass), A Maguire (Laytown & Bettystown), E Griffin (Waterford), E Murphy (Dundalk), J Tuohy (Galway Bay), J Fox (Portmarnock), J McVicker (Knock Golf Club), C Campbell (Warrenpoint), S Underwood (Co. Sligo), M Deasy (Lee Valley);

74 T Higgins (Roscommon), M Nolan (Dun Laoghaire), L Power (Galway), E Sullivan (Carton House), F Carr (Kirkistown Castle), W Russell (Clandeboye), G Fitzmaurice (Balcarrick), S Irwin (Killeen), K Murphy (Dun Laoghaire), A McCormack (Castletroy), J Maginn (Mourne), S Hogan (Nenagh), G McKenna (Donaghadee), P Buckley (Memorial, USA), G Cullen (The Links Portmarnock), M McClean (Malone Golf Club), C Woodroofe (Dun Laoghaire), J Whelan (Newlands), N Crawford (Mourne), R Abernethy (Dun Laoghaire);

75 P McKeever (Castle), A Marshall (Lisburn), P O'Hanlon (Carton House), G Ward (Kinsale), S Ryan (Royal Dublin), R Pierse (Grange), J Lyons (Galway), J Monaghan (Royal Dublin), B Murray (Waterford Castle), S Murphy (Portumna), D Reddan Jnr (Nenagh), R Galligan (Elm Park), H Foley (Royal Dublin); 

76 S Cullen (Slieve Russell), G Moore (Lurgan), E Rumley (Kinsale), J McCarthy (Grange), J McCabe (Roganstown), K Egan (Carton House), C Butler (Kinsale), C Byrne (Woodbrook), R Latimer (Knock), G Lenehan (Portmarnock), S Walsh (Portmarnock), M Sinclair (Knock);

77 S Greenberg (Tandragee), E Smith (Laytown & Bettystown), a Grant (Dundalk), C Dullaghan (Greenore), S Desmond (Monkstown), F Kennedy (the Island), M Kennelly (Galway Bay), E Farrell (Ardee), C Ryan (Dun Laoghaire), S Doyle (Black Bush), G O'Mahony (Fota Island), S Barker (Mourne), A Decorde (Bordeaux Lac), D Leufer (Athenry), A Lowry (Esker Hills), P O'Keeffe (Douglas), L Hutchinson (Royal Dublin); 

78 K Fitzpatrick (Kinsale), K Howard (Dromoland), A Collins (Laytown & Bettystown), R Black (Hilton Templepatrick), T Plunkett (Crover House), P Connolly (Killeen Castle), J Gibson (Fintona), R Knightly (Royal Dublin), D Kitt (Athenry);

79 K Murphy (Cork);

80 E Gaughan (Co. Sligo), J Walsh (Castle), R Griffin (Ballybofey & Stranorlar), R Clarke (The Island), C Denvir (Elm Park), C Vaughan (Limerick), S Carter (Royal Dublin); 

81 R Dutton (Tandragee), O Maguire (Slieve Russell), J Rackard (Enniscorthy), D Reidy (Co. Sligo), J Hadnett (Castletroy), R McCormack (Palmerstown House);

82 A Smith (Mullingar), P O'Connor (Macroom), M Looby (Greystones);

84 B Cashman (Belvoir Park); 

86 A Hill (Athenry).