Youth sets down new marker

 

West of Ireland Championship: It was a day when reputations lay strewn across the Co Sligo links here, when youthful insouciance triumphed over experience, thereby fostering the hope of another great chapter in the 83-year history of the Standard Life-sponsored West of Ireland Championship.

Reigning Irish Close champion Brian McElhinney, East of Ireland title holder Mark Campbell, reigning West of Ireland champion Paul McDonald, this year's leading qualifier and medal winner from the strokeplay Michael McGeady and World Universities individual winner Darren Crowe all perished in the first round of matchplay.

Former West winners Barry Reddan, Mark Ryan and Stuart Paul, were also bundled out of the tournament. Reddan, who celebrates his 60th birthday in September, was pitted against the outrageously gifted 15-year-old Rory McIlroy.

The Holywood tyro's parents probably hadn't even met when Reddan won his West title in 1978, But he wasn't fazed by the assignment which was made all the more straightforward when the Co Louth golfer conceded the first three holes cheaply; his short game was the primary culprit.

In fairness, Reddan didn't collapse completely, but it was little surprise when McIlroy ended the contest on the 14th green.

Three birdies was a modest return from the young golfer who hit every green in regulation, but the same could not be said of his afternoon exploits as he registered five birdies and an eagle in trimming Castlecomer's Michael Buggy 6 and 5. In 27 holes he cobbled together eight birdies and an eagle, no bogeys and didn't miss a green.

"I usually have difficulty reading links greens, but my dad (Gerry) is helping me," McIlroy said. "I'm very comfortable with my game. My putting is improving every day and I'm happy with the way it's going. I was three up after three holes in both matches and just concentrated on hitting fairways and greens."

McIlroy will be looking to create his own little bit of history by becoming the youngest winner of the title, an honour held by 10-time champion and local legend Cecil Ewing, who triumphed for the first time in 1930 as a 16-year-old.

Of the half a dozen players who would have harboured genuine ambitions of winning, Darren Crowe will perhaps be most upset at his exit. Two up with three to play against Rory Leonard - the latter a finalist at Enniscrone in 1999 - Crowe three-putted the 16th, failed to get up and down at 17 and then could only watch as his opponent rolled home a three-foot birdie putt on the last to claim victory.

Darren's younger brother Stephen enjoyed better fortune, making it through to today's round of 16. Irish Close champion McElhinney was beaten in the morning by Mullingar's Pat Higgins (1 hole), but the latter couldn't sustain that form through the afternoon losing out to Sereth Heavey.

Ten of Sweden's amateur panel teed it up in the strokeplay qualifying over the weekend but only two made the matchplay stages. One of those, Rikard Karlberg, a quarter-finalist here last year and co-holder of the course record (65, shot last year), put out defending champion McDonald, guaranteeing victory on the home green.

Conditions are due to prove a little more testing than the gentle breeze that rolled over the links yesterday, which will make attitude almost as important as ability.

FIRST ROUND.

S McMonagle (Dunfanaghy) bt R McCarthy (The Island) 2 and 1; S Crowe (Dunmurry) bt E Haugh (Castletroy) 3 and 2; J Lyons (Galway) bt E Kennedy (Strabane) 4 and 3; M McGeady (North West) bt R Williams (Baltinglass) 3 and 1; S Power (West Waterford) bt R Boal (Scrabo) 4 and 3; D Finn (Mallow) bt H Diamond (Holywood) 3 and 2; S Moloney (Castletroy) bt S Grant (Birr) 2 and 1.

S McTernan (Co Sligo) bt E McCormack (Slieve Russell) 2 and 1; M Horan (Birr) by J McGinn (Laytown & Bettystown) 1 hole; C Doran (Banbridge) bt M Ryan (Grange) 2 and 1; D Morgan (Mullingar) bt R Evans (Moyola Park) 19th; M Owens (Mallow) bt M Lavelle (Belmullet) 5 and 4; S Loftus (Ennis) bt E O'Sullivan (The Island) 1 hole; N Glans (Sweden) bt F Flynn (Laytown & Bettystown) 6 and 5; S Heavey (Co Sligo) bt G Carew (Edenderry) 2 and 1.

P Higgins (Mullingar) bt B McElhinney (North West) 1 hole; R McIlroy (Holywood) bt B Reddan (Co Louth) 5 and 4; M Buggy (Castlecomer) bt K O'Neill (Strandhill) 2 holes; D Kelleher (Portmarnock) bt P Murray (Limerick) 1 hole; A Glynn (Porters Park) bt G McLean (Kilkee Castle) 5 and 4; G Nugent (Kilkenny) bt M Campbell (Stackstown) 2 and 1; M Collins (Sutton) bt S Paul (Tandragee) 2 and 1; D Coyne (Tuam) bt P O'Hanlon (The Curragh) 1 hole.

G Massey (Hermitage) bt K Crowley (Lee Valley) 1 hole; D Crowe (Dunmurry) bt M Kemmy (Limerick) 3 and 2; R Leonard (Banbridge) bt D O' Brien (Laytown and Bettystown) 4 and 3; B McCarroll (Ballyliffin) bt A Morris (Belvoir Park) 4 and 3; G McDermott (Co Sligo) bt C Hughes (Royal Portrush) 19th; M O'Sullivan (Galway) bt F O'Donoghue (Belvoir Park) 1 hole; D Carroll (Grange) bt S Ward (Co Louth) 4 and 3; R Karlberg (Sweden) bt B Keenan (The Heath) 3 and 2; P McDonald (UCD and Woodbrook) bt K Lovelock (Hyndehead) 6 and 5.

SECOND ROUND

S Crowe by McMonagle 19th; Lyons bt McGeady 2 holes; D Finn bt Power 1 up; McTernan bt Moloney 4 and 3; Doran bt Horan 5 and 4; Morgan bt Owens 3 and 2; Glans bt Loftus 3 and 2; Heavey bt Higgins 4 and 3.

McIlroy bt Buggy 6 and 5; Glynn bt Kelliher 1 hole; Nugent bt M Collins 5 and 3; Massey bt Coyne 2 and 1; Leonard bt Crowe 1 hole; McDermott bt McCaroll 1 hole; O'Sullivan bt Carroll 7 and 6; Karlberg bt McDonald 2 holes.

TODAY'S PAIRINGS (last 16)

8.0: Crowe v Lyons; 8.10: Finn v McTernan; 8.20: Doran v Morgan; 8.30: Glans v Heavey; 8.40: McIlroy v Glynn; 8.50: Nugent v Massey; 9.0: Leonard v McDermott; 9.10: O'Sullivan v Karlberg.