Rafferty and Kennedy sharing the lead in West of Ireland

Dundalk man fires a 66 to join young Dubliner at halfway stage on five under par

 Caolan Rafferty: produced  six birdies in a fine second round of 66 at County Sligo. Photograph: Tony Marshall. Photograph:  Tony Marshall/R&A/Getty Images

Caolan Rafferty: produced six birdies in a fine second round of 66 at County Sligo. Photograph: Tony Marshall. Photograph: Tony Marshall/R&A/Getty Images

 

Dundalk’s Caolan Rafferty produced a breathtaking display of iron-play to join teenager Max Kennedy in the halfway lead in the Radisson Blu-sponsored West of Ireland Championship at a sun-kissed County Sligo.

Ranked 41st in the world, the international (26) followed an early bogey at the second with six birdies in a five-under 66 to join Royal Dublin star Kennedy (17) on five-under par.

They lead by one stroke from defending champion Matt Brazill from Naas, who shot 70, as overnight leader Conor Purcell slipped to tied fourth on one-under after a 75.

Purcell was never comfortable off the tee and after turning in one-over, he lost a ball and racked up a triple bogey seven at the 11th, then followed back-to-back birdies at the 12th and 13th with three-putt bogeys at the 16th and 18th.

The Dubliner is still just four strokes off the pace, tied for fourth with Mallow’s James Sugrue, Forrest Little’s Jack McDonnell, Chelmsford’s Arron Edwards-Hill, Waterford’s Eanna Griffin and 16-year-old Boys international Joseph Byrne from Baltinglass, who birdied the last to shoot 68 in the final group of the day.

The big mover was reigning South of Ireland champion Rafferty, who like Purcell, is a leading contender for Walker Cup honours this year.

“I am striking the ball as well as I have ever struck it,” Rafferty said after a six-birdie round. “I enjoy strokeplay and I like it around here. So it’s up to me to keep it going and just play the course and see what happens.”

After failing to get up and down for par after overshooting the tricky second, Rafferty birdied the par-five fifth, then hit an eight iron to five feet to set up a birdie at the eighth and turn in one-under par before racing home in 31.

Playing in bright sunshine and no more than a 15 mph northeast wind blowing across the links, the Dundalk man two-putted the long 12th, holed a 20-footer for a two at the 13th and then almost holed his approach to the 14th.

Rescue wood

Despite hitting the hole, he didn’t make birdie but drained a 12-footer at the 15th, then hit the hole again with his five-iron tee shot at the 16th and knocked in the resulting six-footer for birdie.

He had to get up and down from 60 yards for par at the 17th, where his rescue wood rolled off the front of the green and he was pleased to par the last and match Kennedy, who followed his opening 67 with an excellent 70.

“Conditions were easier today but I didn’t play as well and I had to rely on the putter again,” said Boys international Kennedy, a fifth-year student at St Fintan’s High School in Sutton, after he made a 25-footer for his fourth birdie of the day at the 18th.

“It was always going to be hard to follow up a 67, so I was pleased to putt well.”

The top 50 and ties will make the 54-hole cut today with Ballybofey-Stranolar’s Ryan Griffin now three strokes inside the mark in joint 30th on four-over after following an 80 with a joint best of the day 66 that featured eagle threes at the third and fifth.

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