Thornton, O'Briain, Moriarty and McNamara make it through to Irish Open field
Simon Thornton and Neil O'Briain shared top of the leaderboard at the Rosapenna Golf Hotel after 122 players fought for one of the four Irish qualifying places in this week's Dubai Duty Free Irish Championship, hosted by the Rory Foundation at Ballyliffin.
They both posted a 36-holes total of five-under-par 139 in the €40,000 competition that carried a first prize of €6,000.
No doubt, Thornton, in the last three-ball to finish, will reflect on a dropped shot at the last hole that denied him outright victory, although he still took first place after a play-off.
Just four of the 122 players, including a number of amateurs, who hoped for a spot in the Irish Open managed to get a place in Thursday's first round.
Joining Thornton and O'Briain will be Colm Moriarty (Glasson Hotel & Golf club). Cian McNamara (Limerick) snatched fourth place after sharing 142 with Kevin Phelan who posted rounds of 72 and 70 to McNamara's 69 and 73.
Again a play-off was necessary.
Down-domiciled Liverpudlian Thornton, a regular for many years on the Irish circuit after completing his apprenticeship at Royal County Down, took first place ahead of O'Briain. Simon opened with a four-under-par 68 and added 71 in the second round.
His first round included and eagle, at the long 13th hole, and five birdies as he finished birdie-birdie for a five-under-par back nine of 31.
However his front nine wasn't as promising as, after two birdies, he bogeyed the sixth, seventh and ninth holes to turn in one-over-37.
Second time out Thornton turned in one-under-35 after making birdies at the short seventh and long eighth holes. On the way home he balanced birdie fours at 13 and 17 with bogeys at the short 15th and par four 18th.
O'Briain (Old Conna) carded an eagle, five birdies and two bogeys for an opening 67 but managed only level-par-72 in his second round, pencilling in three birdies and three bogeys, as he and Thornton (Tulfarris Golf Resort) shared a 139 total.
In the shootout for first and second places over the first hole, a par five, Thornton's big hitting came into play as he made birdie to O'Briain's par, earning him the leading qualifier's cheque of €6,000.
Sometimes Challenge Tour player McNamara, who is a regular competitor at home, and Europro Tour player Phelan, after sharing regulation 142, also had a shootout for who would get the fourth and last Irish qualifying place and it was Cork man McNamara who snatched it.
They shared their opening shootout hole but McNamara won the second with a par to tee-off on Thursday at Ballyliffin among some of the world's elite golfers.
Ruaidhri McGee and Cormac Sharvin did not qualify at Rosapenna but they will still play in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open this week, courtesy of special invitations secured by Sport Ireland.
They received invites as they have the highest playing category among Team Ireland Golf members not already in the field.
Derry man McGee (27) and former Ardglass amateur Sharvin (25) are regulars on the European Challenge Tour where they both have playing rights. As the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open is part of the Rolex Series on the European Tour, the Ulster pair will be playing for a share of the $7m prize pot at Ballyliffin.
Last year, Team Ireland’s Gavin Moynihan picked up a cheque for €84,505 after carding a final round 64 at Portstewart to finish inside the top 15.
“For our emerging professionals who have limited playing opportunities on the European Tour, an invitation to an event as prestigious as the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open is extremely valuable. Cormac Sharvin and Ruaidhri McGee will have the chance to test themselves against the very best, and most importantly, they can earn significant prize money and world ranking points,” said Des Smyth, Team Leader of Team Ireland Golf.
Dubai Duty Free Irish Championship Qualifier at Rosapenna Golf Hotel, Donegal
Qualifying Scores: 139 (-5) – S Thornton (Tulfarris Golf Resort) 68,71; N O'Briain (Old Conna) 67,72.
140 – C Moriarty (Glasson Hotel & Golf Club) 67,73.
142 – C McNamara (Limerick) 69,73.