Cool Fox scrapes through
If only those poor, late lamented goats had been around to warn us. Instead of the promised sunshine, what competitors in the South of Ireland amateur championship, sponsored by Irish Shell, got were grey skies for the entire day and a strong wind that had the sponsors' orange and red flags fluttering so fervently that they were in grave danger of escaping their posts.
So, in conditions that required mental resilience and creative shot-making, the field was whittled down to its final 16 players at Lahinch yesterday. And, unlike Sunday, the shocks started early - international Tim Rice, who had teed-off at 7 am, losing in the first match of the day - and continued for much of the wind-tossed day.
The casualty list was both imposing and improbable. Apart from Rice, it also included the defending champion Graeme McDowell, who makes his Walker Cup debut at the end of next week (in Georgia) in conditions that will be markedly different from those experienced here, while others were forced to fight long and hard to stay in this championship which is celebrating its 100th staging.
Among those to demonstrate his fighting qualities was Noel Fox, who had seemed dead and buried on the 18th hole in his fourth round match with Karl Bornemann. One down playing that hole, a 533 yards Par 5 with the wind blowing over the players' right shoulders and the boundary wall lurking menacingly all the way up the left hand side, the Portmarnock player contrived to win with a par after his opponent, some 40 yards short of the green in two, took a further four shots to get down.
With the match in sudden death, Fox lived dangerously. His approach to the first over shot the green only to rebound back down off the hill and, on the second, his approach out of rough finished in a greenside bunker but he played a superb recovery and then holed a six-footer for birdie to keep things going.
Fox finally managed to scrape through on the 21st. There, on a Par 3 that has more bite than many believe, with the wind howling in off the Atlantic, he finished just off the front of the green, while Bornemann was off the back right. Fox successfully two-putted for par, but Bornemann's chip finished four feet short and he missed his par putt.
"That green owed me something," remarked Fox, who has an elephant's memory. Six years ago, in the semi-final of the South, he missed a two-footer against Padraig Harrington that was to cost him the match.
Yesterday he didn't leave himself in such a sticky situation, leaving his first uphill putt dead.
Another player to demonstrate similar resilience was Michael McGinley, younger brother of tour player Paul. Forced to come through the weekend qualifiers, the 26-year-old former North of Ireland champion was a two holes winner over McDowell in the third round - where the holder put his three-wood approach to the last out-of- bounds - but the Grange golfer came down the 18th in his fourth round match with Slieve Russell's Eddie McCormack trailing by one hole.
However, with McGinley in the bunker in three, McCormack's third shot finished up against the boundary wall and he failed to move it, eventually conceding the hole - although McGinley spectacularly holed out with his bunker shot anyway. On the first extra hole, McCormack's second finished in rough and he took two shots to escape but still hadn't found the green. McGinley was just short of the putting surface in two, and that, effectively, was that.
Arguably the most impressive play of the day came from Sean McTernan, who wasn't required to go any further than the 14th green in either of his matches while Adrian Morrow also wisely chose to finish his matches out the course in progressing to the last 16, recording 4 and 3 successes over Colm Campbell and, later, Peter Martin.