Tramore's Robin Dawson took advantage of idyllic conditions to chisel out an impressive six-under-par 65 and lead the Flogas Irish Amateur Open at a sun-splashed Royal County Down.
Without a big individual win since he claimed the Irish Boys title in 2013, the elegant 22-year-old Waterford man kept a cool head to make seven birdies in idyllic conditions at the Newcastle venue to lead by three stokes from Castle's Alex Gleeson and England's Alex Fitzpatrick, younger brother of Ryder Cup player Matthew.
On a day when just 17 players broke par, 2013 champion Robbie Cannon from Balbriggan, shot an early 69 to finish the day in an eight-way tie for fourth with the likes of England's world number eighth Matthew Jordan on two-under.
“I wasn’t expecting that standing on the first tee,” said Dawson, who is a leading contender for a place in the St Andrews Trophy team to face the Continent of Europe in July. “I had a good strategy, just played it one shot at a time and it added up to 65 shots. It’s all about playing your way around here. You don’t have to do anything flash. It’s just about placing the ball in the right positions.”
After an easy birdie at the first, Dawson hit an eight iron stone dead at the second, then made a 25 footer at the third and a 15 footer at the sixth.
He dropped his only shot of the day at the tough eighth but the key to his round arguably came at the iconic ninth, when he drove into the mound on the left but resisted the temptation to go for the green, laying up to 70 yards before getting up and down for par.
“That could have been a disaster,” confessed Dawson, who went on to pick up further shots at the par-three 14th and par-five 12th and 18th for his 65.
“I putted lovely today,” added Dawson, who is now playing full-time golf after graduating from Maynooth University last year. “I got the pace of the greens and away I went. I holed a couple of outrageous ones.”
Rosslare's Gary Collins and Cairndhu's Stephen Watts shot one-under 70s to share 12th while defending champion Peter O'Keeffe from Douglas struggled to the turn in four-over 39 but stormed home in 32 for a level par 71.
He finished with three birdies to share 17th with Galway's Ronan Mullarney, Athenry's Alan Hill, Portmarnock's James Fox and Belvoir Park's Patrick Brennan.