Conor O’Rourke produced a scintillating eight-under par round of 64 to beat a stellar field that included three-time Major winner Padraig Harrington at The K Club Pro-am.
Out early on a stunning day in Kildare, the Naas professional, who is an honorary member at the Straffan venue, picked up birdies at 1, 3, 5, 7, 8 and 9 to turn in a very special 29 strokes.
He picked up another birdie around the turn at the tenth as 59 watch loomed before a bogey at the par-3 14th put paid to his hopes of breaking the 60 barrier.
Still, O’Rourke’s extraordinary play wasn’t finished there and he picked up two more gains at 17 and 18 to sign off on an eight-under par effort, good enough to romp home by four strokes from Glasson’s Colm Moriarty in second at minus-four.
“It’s a great feeling,” O’Rourke reflected, who won the Irish Scratch Series at Luttrellstown GC earlier in the week with a 66.
“My goal was just to shoot the lowest score I could. I’ve got quite good when I get it going to keep the train moving. I was 7-under through 10 and getting excited but I did put on the reverse for about an hour in the middle.
“I had a little word with myself and it was a case of trying to be a bit patient rather than pressing too hard. But it was a nice round of golf. Nice to get a score in early and just exciting to be back playing tournament golf full stop.
“I was so appreciative to get to turn up and prepare for a golf tournament. The buzz is different to the cash games you play with your friends. I’ve been lucky that I’ve got to play a couple more than most and I’ve managed to take advantage.”
It was a superb showing for O’Rourke who’s been handed honorary membership at the Straffan club this year; a privilege the now 29-year old has been making the most after just moving down the road.
“I’ve got to play it loads,” O’Rourke confessed after finding nine birdies at his new local on Thursday. “I’ve been fortunate that the new owner, Michael Fetherston gave me honorary membership and allowed me to use the place. We’ve recently moved five minutes down the road so it’s close to home and it’s been great.”
Indeed, the access to one of the finest facilities in the land has been a real silver lining in an otherwise barren year for O’Rourke. With playing schedules decimated this season, the Challenge Tour regular found himself putting all his eggs in the basket of the recent NI Open at Galgorm where rounds of 69 and 70 set O’Rourke up for a weekend run at the title before two rounds of 79 put paid to his chances.
“It’s been a year where you feel like you’re trying to peak for one big tournament which is tricky but I’ve put a lot of good work in,” he said, adding, “it was just a case of whether I could get it all out at the right time at Galgorm. I didn’t quite manage it but I played some lovely stuff and I’ve been been playing lovely stuff since then.”
“I have to thank my sponsors, though, particularly Paul Kelly from CFM Group for sponsoring days like this and everyone who has stuck by me despite having so little to play for this year. It’s great to have a result like this so I can at least show them that the work is getting results because I couldn’t do it without them.”
One man not surprised by O’Rourke’s procession on Thursday was K Club Captain and former Republic of Ireland striker, Niall Quinn who was told of the Kildare man’s talents a long time ago.
“I’ve a great auld friend who used to be a caddie on the European tour, Sunderland Stevie, and some time ago he came to me and said there’s one other lad who might pop through in Ireland – he said keep an eye on this Conor O’Rourke fella.
“Conor’s around the club a lot, always practicing and he shot the lights out here this morning. He’s exceptionally talented and his dedication is second to none. And on top of that, which is unusual for a great sportsman, he’s a hell of a nice fella so we’re delighted for him,” smiled Quinn, who also spoke of his pride at hosting an elite field for the tournament that included European Ryder Cup team Captain Harrington who’s fine-tuning his game ahead of next week’s Irish Open.
“The course is playing like it was built to play,” Quinn gushed. “It really is in fantastic condition and it’s a credit to Gerry Byrne and his staff. They’re the unsung heroes of The K Club in the last couple of years.
“The work they’ve put in in re-establishing it as one of the real jewels in world golf – never mind Irish golf – they’re the ones responsible for the plaudits the place is getting.”
“It feels like it was a short year but today is probably the highlight for me. To see great people who have played the game around the world like Philip Walton and Pádraig Harrington, and for our new pro Gary Murphy… In the context of the whole year, to have a day like this today really makes it all worth it.”
Meanwhile, O’Rourke will be hoping that it wasn’t just Harrington fine-tuning for next week’s Irish Open at Galgorm Castle. After excelling for two rounds at the venue a fortnight ago, he’d give anything to see his name filling the couple of slots remaining that sit invitingly blank on the European Tour website.
“They can feel free to ‘unblank’ it with my name if they like,” he laughed of a hopeful invite.
“I’d absolutely love the opportunity. I’ve been playing nice stuff and I’d love to unroll it up there on a course I know well so yeah, I’ll sit and pray and hope that the powers that be give me an opportunity to go test myself against the best.”
Padraig Harrington, playing competitively for the first time since March, carded a two-over-par 74 that left him in a share of 22nd. The Ryder Cup captain will compete in next week’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open in Galgorm Castle and was out to dust off some of the cobwebs in Kildare as he nurses a knee injury.
Richard Kilpatrick (Banbridge) and amateur partners John Stuart, Richard Stuart, and Ger O’Brien won the team event with 89 points.
Full scores HERE