Smith finally sees off Ward after seven extra holes
SOUTH OF IRELAND AMATEUR OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP:EUGENE SMITH from Ardee produced a truly heroic performance in atrocious conditions of heavy rain and stiff winds to qualify for this morning’s semi-finals of the South of Ireland Championship.
The 20-year-old Munster Youths champion lost the first three holes to Co Louth’s Simon Ward before staging a magnificent rally that saw him take a one hole lead up the 18th.
Ward, the champion in 2006, showed his fighting qualities by sinking an 18-foot birdie putt to bring the match into extra time and the contest went on for another seven holes before Smith edged through. And he did so in style, following a rescue club tee shot with a gap wedge to a couple of yards before holing in for a birdie and the match.
“It’s been a good year for me so far after winning the Munster Youths and finishing fifth in the Irish Close at Portrush,” he said. “That helped to get me on the Leinster team and now my aim is to win the South and to improve still further in the hope of getting on the Irish panel later this year.
“Surprisingly enough, I don’t feel all that tired even though I had to play 44 holes today having gone to the 19th in the morning against Des Morgan.”
Smith now comes up against Pat Murray, 21 years his senior and Irish Close champion in 2009. Murray, who missed the first half of the year because of an Achilles muscle injury picked up playing soccer just after Christmas, is hoping to reach the South final for the first time having never done so previously in spite of reaching the semi-final on seven occasions.
After coming through his matches yesterday against Shane Hogan of Nenagh and local Stephen Loftus, Murray admitted that “winning the South would be the pinnacle of my career, maybe even better than the Close, for it’s the championship I always wanted to win.”
Colin Fairweather’s surname was somewhat ironic given yesterday’s awful weather but he performed most impressively in hammering the holder Stephen Walsh by 5 and 4 in the morning and coming through against Seán Ryan of Royal Dublin in the quarter-finals. Fairweather is a former Ulster Youths champion and is the son of Knock club professional, Gordon.
Fairweather will take on fellow 21-year-old Stephen Healy from Claremorris in the last four. Healy graduated last year in business administration at Jacksonville University and showed outstanding form early in 2012 when reaching the final of the West of Ireland only to lose to Harry Diamond.
He made his Connacht debut last week and finished off his quarter-final match against Ally Purdy of Ballyclare by knocking a sand wedge to two feet at the first tie hole.