Galway's Ronan Mullarney and Mallow's James Sugrue admit they cannot dare to dream of an all Irish final after battling their way into the quarter-finals of The Amateur Championship at Portmarnock.
Sugrue fought back from three down with four to play in his third round match with Swede Christoffer Palsson, turning his match around with a brilliant chip and putt par from the Valley of Sin at the 15th before going on to win the next three holes.
The match ended when the Swede's approach plunged into gorse back left at the 18th after the Corkman's fine approach to 18 feet and he went on to beat Spaniard Sergio Parriego 5&3 in the last 16.
Mullarney (23) cruised to a 4&3 win over Sweden's Ludvig Aberg in the morning, but he had to sweat to beat England's Matty Lamb with a gutsy par at the 18th having raced five up with seven to play.
"It’s a feeling of relief, absolutely," said Mullarney, who knows he cannot afford to think about winning a spot in the Open and next year's Masters and US Open as he faces England's Ben Jones in the last eight with the winner to face the victor in the all-Scottish clash of Euan Walker and Sandy Scott.
"It’s brilliant to have two Irish players in the quarter-finals. There are plenty of matches left to be played and I can’t look too far ahead to the prizes that come for the winner at the end of this championship.”
Laidback Sugrue meets the Netherlands’ Koen Kouwenaar and while he knows he can only meet Mullarney in the final, he's not getting ahead of himself.
"Myself and Mullarney in the final would be nice," he said. "I don’t think that’s ever happened and for it to happen in Ireland as well, these are all things that would be going through your head but I’ll just try and take every game as it comes."
Portmarnock, which celebrates its 125th anniversary this year, also continues to be enjoyed by the leading player in the field David Micheluzzi.
The Australian, who sits seventh on the World Amateur Golf Ranking™, fought back from two down at the turn to win three holes in a row from the 14th and emerge victorious in the last-16 against Dane Alexander George Frances 2&1.
Micheluzzi now meets Cameron Sisk from the United States of America, who reached the quarter-finals after surviving a fightback from Vincent Norrman to win at the 20th.
With heavy rain showers over the links in the afternoon, two Scottish players handled the conditions to set up their own last-eight tie tomorrow morning.
Sandy Scott and Euan Walker, both well versed in links golf as members at Nairn and Kilmarnock (Barassie) respectively, held their nerve to edge tight contests. Scott defeated Eugenio Lopez-Chacarra, world-ranked 18th, while Walker went to the 20th to oust Jonatan Jolkkonen.
Mullarney is not a power player but he believes he has a game plan that works well at Portmarnock.
"I am fairly smart about my game," he said. "There are certain spots out there, it doesn't matter how high you hit it, you just can't go. Then there are few safe spots. So [my strength] it's how I pick my way around the golf course, especially when the greens are firm and fast.
"It's a bit like Lytham, you can't go in those bunkers. Even if you are leaving yourself 200 yards, if it is downwind, it's only an eight or a seven iron."
Sugrue is a member of the GB&I Walker Cup squad and he's doing his chance of selection no harm.
He birdied the last at The Island to finish on three-over in qualifying to avoid Wednesday's preliminary round and he's improved with every round.
"I like it here. It's a nice track. If you hit good shots you get rewarded, if you hit bad shots you get punished, so it's pretty fair," he said. "You have to be straight off the tee as well. I got a new driver just on Saturday at the range. The lads from Titleist fitted me for a new driver and it's just way better than my old one.
"It doesn't spin the ball half as much and it goes further. You don't want it spinning around here, you can spin it into a gorse bush fairly lively."
His win of Palsson was a thriller and he was pleased to stick to his guns and wait for the tide to turn.
"I was hitting it all right and played ok," he said. "The lad I was playing with got off to a quick enough start. He was two under through seven. I was level par, didn't really do that much wrong."
Then came that par save at the 15th.
"When I was walking off the tee I thought I had a grand chip, that it would be an easy up and down," he said. "When I went down there, it was downwind. I didn't have a good lie in the rough. I just couldn't get my lob wedge under it, so I just tried to bump and run a 9-iron. Just tried to get it on the green and rolled it down to five feet. That was a bit of a tricky one but I had a good line on it and rolled it down.
"I got up and down to win that, and then won 16, 17, and 18 to win the match down the last," he said.
Asked if he was worried at any stage, he said: “Not really. I just decided to play stroke play, just play my own ball and let him make the mistakes if he wants to.
"I won 16 with birdie - driver, 4-iron, pushed it short of the three small bunkers and played a nice pitch to three feet and rolled it in. That was a nice one. And then 17 he hit it right off the tee. I hit it down the middle and just made a simple enough par, hit the green, took two putts.
"Same at the last. I thought he was in the bunker on the last, but it was just short. He must have had a poor lie because he hit it way left, with an 8-iron probably. I'd put it down to a bad lie.
"I hit 8-iron as well, put it to 20 feet. It was a nice shot. It looked a lot closer from back the fairway which probably put a bit of pressure on him.”
Both men have been fortunate in their choice of caddie with Mullarney helped by Newlands’ Jake Whelan, a top player in his own right, and Sugrue relaxed alongside fellow Mallow member Conor Dowling.
"I’ve played a lot of golf with him, he’s a good player, plays off scratch,” Sugrue said. “The lad I was playing with this morning was just carrying his back himself. He didn’t even have a motorised trolley. Let them off. I wont be carrying my bag anyway.”
The quarter-finals and the semi-finals take place today with the winner in Saturday’s 36-hole final gaining exemptions into The Open at Royal Portrush next month, the 2020 US Open at Winged Foot and, by tradition, an invitation to play in the Masters Tournament.
Ronan Mullarney, Ireland
“It’s a feeling of relief, absolutely. I was five up in the quarter-final and hit it slightly heavy into the par-3 12th and Matty won that hole. He then just kept clawing away and played lovely on the back nine. It was a great match.
“I’ve played in front of good sized crowds before and it was great to see them supporting me. It’s brilliant to have two Irish players in the quarter-finals. There are plenty of matches left to be played and I can’t look too far ahead to the prizes that come for the winner at the end of this championship.”
James Sugrue, Ireland
“It feels really, really good, especially after this morning after 14 holes. I thought I was going home and there was no way back. To win this morning and do it again this afternoon feels pretty good.
“Christoffer beat me last year so it was nice to come through against him. It’s great to see the fans out there, everyone from Portmarnock coming out to see us. They are great and love their golf here. Hopefully we can show them some more good golf tomorrow. Myself and Ronan are on different sides of the draw so it would be nice to meet in the final.
“I haven’t thought too much about the major opportunities at the end of this week but might do if I can reach the final.”
David Micheluzzi, Australia
“It was a nice comeback and I’m over the moon. I’ve been down in every match now but it’s not over until it’s over. Fortunately for me, Alexander made a few bogeys in row towards the end and I capitalised by making pars on those tough holes from 14 to 16.
“He was hitting it so good early on and I didn’t know how to compete with him but I showed real tenacity. Early in the week, I wasn’t hitting it great but I’m just starting to feel like I’ve got it now. I stayed really patient and it all clicked. I just want to get past a quarter-final tomorrow and try and push to the final.”
Sandy Scott, Scotland
“It feels really good. After a long day, to be able to play tomorrow is fantastic. Eugenio is a really strong player. I was all over the place at times in the quarter-final. I was scrambling like mad and I think he got a little frustrated when I was making pars from the rough. I kept doing it and he had good chances that he missed. When I got my chances, I was able to convert them.
“The putter was definitely key. I was holing some putts to halve holes and my wedge game was also strong to stay in it. Playing all these kinds of links shots again, it feels like a few years ago when I was growing up as a junior just playing around Nairn. It’s funny having to play them again but you have some confidence having played them in the past.”
The Amateur Championship, Portmarnock GC
AG Frances (Den) bt T Plumb (Eng) 5&4;
D Micheluzzi (Aus) bt T Sloman (Eng) 4&3;
C Sisk (USA) bt B McKenzie (Eng) 4&3;
V Norrman (Swe) bt G Folk (Aut) 2 Holes;
K Kouwenaar (Ned) bt P Nyholm (Swe) 5&3;
M Schmid (Ger) bt A Flanagan (Eng) 3&2;
J Sugrue (Mallow) bt C Pålsson (Swe) 1 hole;
S Parriego Cornejo (Esp) bt J Robinson (Eng) at 21st;
E Walker (Sco) bt R Leo (Ita) 5&4;
J Jolkkonen (Fin) bt D Ravetto (Fra) 4&3;
E Lopez-Chacarra (Esp) bt G Manzoni (Ita) 4&2;
S Scott (Sco) bt D O'Loughlin (Eng) 2&1;
R Mullarney (Galway) bt L Åberg (Swe) 4&3;
M Lamb (Eng) bt K Aoshima (Jpn) 1 hole;
B Gill (Eng) bt M Toft Hansen (Den) 4&3;
B Jones (Eng) bt S Bukrinsky (Den) 3&2.
D Micheluzzi bt AG Frances 2&1;
C Sisk bt V Norrman 20th;
K Kouwenaar bt M Schmid 3&2;
J Sugrue bt S Parriego Cornejo 5&3;
E Walker bt J Jolkkonen 20th;
S Scott bt E Lopez-Chacarra 2&1;
R Mullarney bt M Lamb 1 hole;
B Jones bt B Gill 2&1.
(0815) D Micheluzzi (Aus) v C Sisk (USA);
(0830) K Kouwenaar (Ned) v J Sugrue (Mallow);
(0845) E Walker (Sco) v S Scott (Sco);
(0900) R Mullarney (Galway) v B Jones (Eng).