Rowan Lester posts new course record on day one of North of Ireland Amateur Open Championship

Tony McGee at Royal Portrush

The top of the leader board changed by the minute at Royal Portrush yesterday as scores kept dropping on the newly designed Valley and Dunluce courses on the opening day of the 2017 Cathedral Eye North of Ireland Amateur Open Championship.

Last man in from the now Par 71 Valley course was Dubliner Rowan Lester and he posted a new course record of seven-under-par 64.

He carded five birdies and an eagle to push Meath man Robert Brazill off the top of the leaderboard, at that stage and snatch the new course record on the re-designed Valley links.

Recalled Brazill: “I played in the championship two years ago and I like the hole changes on the Valley. I think the course is much fairer now and you have a better chance of holding a score over the closing holes. Previously it could have been the case you were trying to make a good score over the final stretch.

“We will see how we get on tomorrow on Dunluce. I played a practice round there and I really liked the look of the changes there also.”

Brazill, who carded two eagles and two birdies with no dropped shots, was pushed further down the scale as the evening clouds were gathering as just before Lester's stunner Jordan Hood (Galgorm Castle) posted 65  

He carded seven birdies with bogey four at the second hole wiping out birdie four at the first. He turned in one-under-35 and made two birdie fours, two birdie threes and one birdie two on the back nine.

“At the start I struggled with my putting but made some adjustments and then saw the putts dropping in,” he said. “I was playing with Tiernan McLarnon and the golf was pretty good. If you couldn't play well in the conditions we got. You just couldn't play well,” added 

The 65s squeezed four 66s off the top of the Valley leaderboard, before Lester's 64, among them Fortwiliam Kentucky-bound teenager Hugh O'Hare who was one of the early day leaders.

The former St Malachy's College student, winner of both the Ulster and Irish U18 Order of Merits in 2016, is playing in the North for the first time. He sprinkled six birdie over his card with just one bogey.

“I started today as a plus-one handicapper but should now be down to plus-two after that round,” he said. 

Among the posse on 67 is South African visitor Jason Ackerman from Pretoria who is spending his winner months in these parts of the Northern Hemisphere with his caddy girlfriend Natasha. He carded five birdies and no bogeys.

“The links courses in this part of the world are much different than the ones we have in South Africa. We have only three and they are all man-made. This probably the best score that I have shot. I shot a 64 once but that was one-over-par, so this is my best,” he said.

Also in that group is last year's beaten finalist Tiernan McLarnon who posted a solid round of five birdies and a bogey at the short third hole.

Defending champion Sean Flanagan from Co Sligo is a further two shots back after shaky start in which he pencilled in bogey fives at the fifth and sixth holes.

He then wiped out those mistakes with birdies at seven and eight but dropped back to one-over again with another five at the tenth hole.

He continued to swap birdie and bogey at 11 and 12 but covered the last five holes in three-under-par for his 69.
Kirkistown Castle vice-captain Neill Simpson snatched the Dunluce record as he handed in  a four birdie, one bogey 69 to pip

Galway man Colm Hughes by one stroke. A change of swing has changed his game after returning to the fairways following a gap of 17 years.

“I went to Charlie Bell at Blackwood and he changed my swing from a fade to a draw and that has got me going again. I played solid golf today, never used the driver, just used the two wood and the rescue off the tee for safety because I knew the rough was bad,” he revealed.

“I'm pleased with my game now and I played well today. Solid golf. You don't win the tournament in the first qualifying round but you can lose your chance of winning it,” stressed.

His birdies lit on the fifth, seventh, 11th and 15th greens.

Only minutes before he handed in his card, Galway one-handicapper Colm Hughes had gone to the top of the leaderboard after a one-under-par 71.

Scores Day One
Valley (Par 71) Leading Scores:
64 – R Lester (Hermitage)
65 – R Brazill (Naas), J Hood (Galgorm Castle), T Mullarney (Galway)
66 – H O'Hare (Fortwilliam), P Murphy (Rosslare), C Butler (Kinsale), K  McCarron (North West), R Royston (Cotswold Downs SA), G Fitzmaurice (Balcarick), C Fairweather (Knock), D Mallon (Dungannon).
67 – B Murphy (Waterford Castle), J Ackerman (Silverlakes, Pretoria, SA), T McLarnon (Massereene), E Leonard (Wentworth/Killiney), K Van Der Weele (Rosendealsche), D Foy (Laytown & Bettystown), J Yates (Naas).
68 – M Boucher (Carton House), K Murphy (Charlesland), D Coughlan (Portmarnock), M McClean (Matfen Hall), T Beasley (Hunstanton), H Young-Alls (Notts), J Hapgood (Southerndown), E Smyth (Laytown & Bettystown), C Woodrofe (Dun Laoghaire),J Sugrue (Mallow), S Bleakley (Shandon Pk),  M Ryan Jun (New Ross), A Fahy (Dun Laoghaire), C Rafferty (Dundalk), 

Dunluce (Par 72)

Leading Scores:
69 – N Simpson (Kirkistown Castle)
71 C Hughes (Galway)
73 – C Hynds (Ardglass), P Jordan (Lurgan), A Clegg (Donaghadee), R O'Callaghan (Mannan Castle), J Hewitt (Tandragee)
74 – B Lawlor (Ardee), R Symington (Lisburn) – Hole-in-One, D Shaw (Belvoir Pk), G Aerhur (Carrickfergus)


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