Lernihan treading familiar path

 

DARA LERNIHAN is treading a familiar path in the Irish Amateur Close Championship here, having negotiated his way to this morning’s semi-final against Dunmurry’s Stephen Crowe. Two years ago the Castle golfer reached the final of this tournament only to lose out to Paul O’Hanlon.

It’s the closest he has come to winning one of Irish golf’s major championships, his second place in the East of Ireland in 2008 notwithstanding.

It’s a record he’s keen to tweak, and on the evidence of his golf yesterday over the demanding north Dublin links, it’s not a fanciful ambition.

The Irish international beat Knock’s Colin Fairweather in the morning 4 and 2, before mustering an even more impressive display in the afternoon when he accounted for the 2008 East of Ireland champion, Eoin Arthurs.

Lernihan’s golf was largely a model of fairways and greens, but when he was occasionally errant his short game came to the rescue.

“I have been playing really well all week,” the 23-year-old, plus-two handicapper admitted. “I like playing in the wind so the conditions have suited. My short game has been pretty good when required and I managed some good up-and-downs. That gives you momentum and it (can be draining) on your opponents.”

It was a perfect day once again for golf with the breeze offering a good test over the beautifully manicured course.

Lernihan is part of a six-man Ireland team for the European Amateur Championships that take place in Sweden in a fortnight, and his game appears in good order.

The only other survivor from that team in the tournament, at least until yesterday afternoon, was Rathmore’s Alan Dunbar, but he succumbed to his close friend and the silver medal winner in the qualifying stage, Luke Lennox.

The plus-four handicapper from Moyola Park managed to hang on in a topsy-turvy affair that went to the home green.

“I was two up early on in what was a scrappy match; a few birdies, a few bogeys, but very few pars. I turned one up but lost the 10th and 12th. The important thing was winning the next hole.”

Lennox went one up on the 15th with a birdie after hitting a wedge to three feet.

The match progressed to the 18th and it seemed Dunbar had been handed a lifeline – not for the first time this week – when he split the fairway with a drive and watched his opponent pull his tee-shot into the left rough.

What followed was arguably the shot of the day as Lennon hit a five-iron 195 yards from a poor lie to find the putting surface.

His two putts sufficed to edge out the Irish international.

His performances to date both in qualifying and the matchplay stage of the tournament must have made a favourable impression on the national selectors.

“I don’t normally like matchplay,” Lennox smiled, a statement very much at odds with his performances so far this week.

He’ll meet the in-form Rory Leonard, who has gathered a host of titles already this season, including the West of Ireland Championship.

He managed a pair of 4 and 3 victories, in the morning defeating Lucan’s Richard O’Donovan and in the afternoon Co Louth’s Gerard Kelly.

Lernihan’s semi-final opponent is Stephen Crowe, a brother of former South of Ireland and North of Ireland champion Darren. His two victories didn’t require him to go past the 16th green in defeating Eddie McCormack and, in the afternoon, Lahinch’s Stephen Loftus.

Eighteen-year-old Ryo Ishikawa, Japan’s hottest golfing property, will make only his second appearance in Europe at the Scottish Open in two weeks.

Ishikawa, whose British debut came alongside Tiger Woods and Lee Westwood in the British Open at Turnberry last year, has chosen the Loch Lomond event as his warm-up for the following week’s Open at St Andrews.

The teenager is already a seven-time winner on his home circuit, the last of his victories in May being achieved with a closing 12 under par round of 58 — the lowest ever achieved on any major golf tour.

“I am very much looking forward to coming to Scotland,” he said yesterday.

Matchplay Results

Third Round:Stephen Loftus (Lahinch) bt Stephen Healy (Claremorris) 2 and 1; Stephen Crowe (Dunmurry) bt Eddie McCormack (Galway) 3 and 2; Dara Lernihan (Castle) bt Colin Fairweather (Knock) 4 and 2; Eoin Arthurs (Forrest Little) bt Colm O’Sullivan (Fota Island) 2 and 1; Alan Dunbar (Rathmore) bt Des Morgan (Mullingar) at 19th; Luke Lennox (Moyola Park) bt Sean Ryan (Royal Dublin) 2 and 1; Rory Leonard (Banbridge) bt Richard O’Donovan (Lucan) 4 and 3; Gerard Kelly (Co Louth) bt Rory McNamara (Headfort) 2 and 1. Quarter-finals:Crowe bt Loftus 4 and 3; Lernihan bt Arthurs 5 and 4; Lennox bt Dunbar 1 hole; Leonard bt Kelly 4 and 3.

Today

Semi-finals

08.30: Stephen Crowe (Dunmurry) v Dara Lernihan (Castle)

08.45: Luke Lennox (Moyola Park) v Rory Leonard (Banbridge)