LAHINCH, County Clare, Ireland (July 30, 2012) -- Most of the country’s leading amateurs may have stayed away from the South of Ireland Championship – only one member of the new national side, Gary Hurley, took part and he was beaten in Sunday’s second round – but there is still the prospect of some fine golf over the next couple of days.
A number of top-class players still stand their ground, including 2009 Irish Close champion Pat Murray, who has been chasing the title for the past 20 years and incredibly, has contested seven semi-finals without winning any of them. Now 41, his season has been serious hampered by an Achilles’ injury playing soccer last Christmas that caused him to miss the first six months of the season.
But he is now fit and well and comfortable wins yesterday over former champion Peter Sheehan and Paul O’Kane from Moyola Park showed him to be in good form and favoured to defeat Shane Hogan of Nenagh in this morning’s fifth round.
The programme gets under way with what promises to be a tremendous battle between the 2006 champion Simon Ward and Cork-based Dubliner Niall Gorey, who helped Munster to victory in the Interprovincial Championship at Royal Co Down last week. Both admitted to being seriously tired having played a lot of golf in recent weeks but they still did enough to come through with plenty of merit yesterday.
Ward (25) was in big trouble when falling four down after seven against Matthew McLean of Balmoral in the morning’s third round before drawing level with a ten foot birdie on the 18th and eventually getting through at the first tie hole. Although generally ahead in his afternoon clash with American Conor Casey, Ward was still brought all the way to the final green before clinching victory by a two hole margin.
Gorey had a less arduous day in beating Paul O’Neill (Nenagh) and Stephen Dwyer (Lucan), while Ardee’s Eugene Smith showed earlier in the year just what a capable young golfers he is when landing the Munster Youths title. He again proved his mettle by qualifying for the last 16 through a 19th green birdie that saw him home against another talented youngster, William Russell, of Clandeboye.
Towards the end of a day that began at 7am and finished in near darkness, Joe Lyons, a former finalist, lost to Paul Cullen of Royal Tara.