James Sugrue and Gavin Moynihan were relieved to be around for the weekend in Dublin after the pair made the cut on the number at the halfway stage of the Irish Challenge at Portmarnock Links.
Mallow man Sugrue arrived home fresh off banking his first pro cheque in Sweden and although he was unhappy with a second day three-over par 74 that saw him drop to four-over for the tournament, he admitted his hope at the start of the week was to hang around for the weekend.
“To be honest, the way I played I didn’t think I deserved to make the cut,” said Sugrue, who traded three bogeys and a double with two birdies on Friday. “At the minute plus-four is looking like the number so I’ll go at it a little bit more freer and see where I am.”
Having famously won The Amateur Championship just next-door at Portmarnock Golf Club in 2019, Sugrue knows the atmosphere that’s missing this week in the capital but has still enjoyed the home comforts of a Challenge Tour event in Ireland.
“It’s brilliant,” he said. “It would be lovely to have people around here and Portmarnock as well is a real golf stronghold, two great courses, but yeah, it would be lovely to have people here but it’s lovely to play – I’m three hours away, it’s a little bit long but when I came home from Sweden I could get home for a day, get my stuff washed, hop in the car and drive up here. It’s a little bit cheaper!
“I suppose at the start of the week, I wanted to be here on the weekend. I am playing the weekend now. Not how I would’ve liked to have played today but it was a bit of a battle out there. Hopefully with the weather a bit better tomorrow, I can shoot a few under.”
Another man who’s been grappling with the cut-line on Tour for the best part of two years is The Island’s Gavin Moynihan who found himself on the right side of it alongside Sugrue at four-over par. The 26-year old returned a much-improved even par round of 71 and is looking forward to more game-time now over the weekend as he looks to plot his way up the leaderboard.
“A lot of positive signs the last two or three events,” said Moynihan, who alongside Sugrue is just inside the top-50. “It was definitely the tough side of the draw, but I had no expectations at all. I’m just trying to find some form really. Been struggling the last six or seven months with scoring, ball striking is actually improving. Short game has been letting me down the last while so I’m just trying to get that back to where it normally is.
“This week is all about trying to enjoy the week – home event. The form hasn’t been there so hopefully I can get a couple more rounds under the belt over the weekend and try to move up the board.”
Heading the Irish charge at the halfway point was Ballymena’s Dermot McElroy who put in another rock-solid showing on Friday, firing himself firmly into the title picture, just two shots back at four-under par.
Holywood’s Tom McKibbin was next best after adding a 73 to his opening 68 to sit just inside the top-10 at one-under after making his first professional cut. St. Anne’s Cameron Raymond was left to lament three back-nine bogeys, though he was safely into the weekend at even par.
“I played OK for the front and then came home in an ambulance,” Raymond laughed, still nicely placed just outside the top-10 in a tie for 11th with Michael Hoey after the five-time European Tour winner carded a second consecutive 71.
Tullamore’s Stuart Grehan was also safely through at two-over par, with Simon Thornton, Conor O’Rourke and Paul McBride looking forward to the weekend at plus-three.
At the top, Gary King will take a one-shot lead into day three of the Irish Challenge after posting a two-under par round of 69 in difficult conditions on Friday. The Englishman ended the day on six-under par, moving one shot clear of round one leader Alfredo Garcia-Heredia and two shots clear of McElroy.
The 30-year-old was happy to finish his round in style and is looking to keep the standard high over the weekend as he chases a second Challenge Tour victory.
“I am very pleased,” said King. “It was nice to finish the round off with a birdie on 18 having birdied 16 as well, so lunch is going to taste that bit sweeter. I’m sitting in a good spot so hopefully I can continue the good form into tomorrow.”
Having battled hard in heavy rain and strong winds to card four birdies and overturn a three-shot deficit at the top, King is relishing in the tough conditions that links golf is throwing his way despite admitting to not being a fan of the cold weather.
“It is a funny one because I hate the cold. As you can see, I am wearing a big wooly hat now so I will welcome a bit warmer weather tomorrow but hopefully the wind stays up because I am enjoying that test.”
The 2016 Montecchia Open by Lyoness winner used his links experience and emphasised the importance of approach play into the greens. He will be hoping to take his momentum into the weekend and claim a second Challenge Tour title, whilst also gaining vital points to rise up the Road to Mallorca Rankings.
“I’ve hit a lot of good approach shots and that has been the key to not making bogeys for me over the two days. If you are hitting your irons well then you can keep bogeys off the card but there are so many runoffs around the greens that if you short side yourself, you are almost certainly going to make a bogey. It is the approach play that has to be strong in order to keep bogeys off the card.”
There is plenty of experience behind the leaders with two-time Challenge Tour winner Borja Virto in fourth place on three under par, while two-time Challenge Tour champion Daan Huizing, young Spaniard Eduard Rousaud, Englishman Andrew Wilson, Iceland’s Gudmundur Kristjansson and Germany’s Yannik Paul, all sit tied fifth on two under par.
The third round of the Irish Challenge will begin at 8am local time on Saturday May 29, with King teeing it up alongside Garcia-Heredia at 13:10.
- Full scoring HERE