Simon Ward leaves amateur ranks on a high as he sees off Paul O’Hara in South of Ireland final thriller at Lahinch
Simon Ward claimed the South of Ireland Championship for the second time after a tough final battle with Paul O’Hara from Kilkenny
Simon Ward left the amateur ranks on a high when he survived a war of attrition to beat Kilkenny’s Paul O’Hara on the 19th to capture the South of Ireland Amateur Open Championship for the second time.
The 26-year old from Co Louth GC arrived in Lahinch knowing this was going to be his swan-song in the unpaid ranks and while he would have preferred to win the title by holing out like a hero, he felt for 34-year-old surprise package O’Hara, who overshot the green at the first extra hole of a gripping decider, knocked his slippery approach putt four feet past and missed the return.
“It’s great to win my last championship as an amateur where I won my first,” a delighted Ward said, his parents Peter and Mary proudly watching him win for the first time.
“It’s very exciting, I love this course, it fits my eye – horses for course if you like.
“It’s not the way you want to win – you’d prefer to hole a putt and take the title that way – so I feel for Paul because he is a very good player and I believe he will have more to say in his championship in the future.”
Insisting he would not be dissuaded from joining the professional ranks, Ward added:
“I’m definitely turning pro. I think I’ve done my time as an amateur and that’s why I got up for this week. I knew it was my last one and that got me going and kept me going. Now I need something new.”
O’Hara had played superbly to make his way to the decider, winning all his matches without having to go to the 18th.
Yet having never expected to go so far, his defeat stung all the more.
“It was only natural as the week went on that I wanted to go further and further,” O’Hara said. “I guess I probably missed too many fairways in the final and against a player of Simon’s quality you end up paying the price.”
The semi-finals were played in horrific conditions – steady wind and torrential rain – but while Ward had to dig deep to see off 19-year old Alex Gleeson of Castle by 2 and 1, O’Hara cruised to an impressive 6 and 5 win over a struggling Ryan McKinstry from Cairndhu.
The final was anything but quick, but it was certainly gripping as both men played par golf to take the match right to the death. The lead changed hands three times and only six holes were halved in southerly winds that gusted up to 25mph.
Ward hit two superb shots to birdie the second and go one up but lost the par-three fifth – the Dell – when he three-putted and O’Hara got up and down for par from the hill that blocks out the green.
The Kilkenny man then took the sixth with a solid par to go one up but after three-putting the seventh, he hit his tee shot stone dead at the 166-yard eighth to regain the lead.
Ward levelled with a conceded birdie at the ninth and went one up at the next before O’Hara got up and down from sand for a winning par three at the 11th to level again
He then matched Ward’s birdie four at the 12th and escaped with a half at the 13th where the Co Louth man missed an eight foot chance for birdie.
Ward took the 14th in par to go one up again, holed a seven footer for par at the next to maintain his advantage but then putted off the green at the 16th to leave matters all square.
Both men nervously three putted the 17th but brilliantly parred the last despite driving into sand to take the match to its heart-stopping if somewhat tragic conclusion.