Holder Paul Dunne and Colm Campbell share the lead in the East of Ireland

Defending champion grinds out a level par 72 in prevailing tricky conditions


“It’s like a US Open,” quipped former tour professional Stephen Browne, only half in jest, of a set-up at the East of Ireland which combined firm greens, heavy rough and a fresh wind to ask some seriously tough questions of those with designs on the title as the championship yesterday reached its midpoint.

Yet, such is the quality of shot-making among elite amateurs that some players will always find a way to conquer the toughest of conditions. And so it was that defending champion Paul Dunne, adjusting back to links golf after his endeavours on the collegiate circuit in the United States, and Colm Campbell ended a demanding old day at the office in a share of the 36-holes lead on four-under-par 140, a shot clear of Cork’s Gary O’Flaherty.

Dunne has come straight from the NCAA championships in Kansas to defend his title.

After an opening round 68 on Saturday, the Greystones player added a second round 72 to remain at the head of affairs. “I didn’t play great. I struggled a little bit with everything . . . in general, it was a struggle,” he admitted.

As Dunne put it of the move from target golf in the states to the demands of links: “I am just learning to flight my ball down again as opposed to hitting high, soft shots in flat calm at the flag. Working the ball against the wind is something I have to get used to again.”

Recent win

To his credit, Dunne kept to the task at hand and signed for a level-par round that enabled him to claim a share of the lead with Campbell, a 27-year-old Ulster interprovincial player, who came in here on the back of a recent win in his home Scratch Cup at Warrenpoint.

Campbell played some wonderful golf in signing for a 68 where much of the best work was done on the front nine. On that outward run, he grabbed birdies at the second, third, fifth, sixth and ninth to turn in 32 strokes.

On the 470 yards Par 4 11th, Campbell – a store manager with O2 in Newry – hit a nine-iron approach to 15 feet and sank the putt to move to six-under on his round. However, back-to-back bogeys on the 14th, where he drove into rough, and the 15th, where he found a greenside bunker, came as a wake-up call. He responded with a 15-footer for birdie on the 16th but was penalised for a loose drive with a bogey on the finishing hole.

A quarter-finalist in the West of Ireland at Rosses Point, where he was beaten by eventual champion Jack Hume, Campbell has maintained that decent form on a course where he has shown good form in the past.

Two years ago, he arrived to the 17th where had an eagle putt to win outright and a birdie putt to get into a play-off. He three-putted. Now, he has put himself in position to make amends.

Former European Tour pro Browne admitted to being “rusty” but had it going at one point yesterday when he stood on the eighth with a birdie putt to go six-under on his round.

He didn’t get that birdie and was brought back to earth with a run of four successive bogeys from the ninth and had salt rubbed into the wound with a double bogey on the 14th. In the end, Browne signed for a 74 for 149, nine shots adrift of the leading duo. With 25 players within eight shots of the lead, there’s still a lot of golf to be played.

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