O’Neill leads nine Irish into match play stages at The Amateur

John Craven
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O’Neill leads nine Irish into match play stages at The Amateur

Luke O'Neill in action on day two in Nairn, Scotland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/R&A/R&A via Getty Images)

Connemara’s Luke O’Neill led the Irish charge into the match play stages of this year’s Amateur, firing a three-under par 68 for a four-under tally after 36-holes of stroke play at Nairn.

The Kansas State convert carded three birdies in a superb bogey-free effort, sharing third place in qualifying, three strokes clear of Carton House’s Marc Boucher (-1) who also impressed with four birdies and an eagle in a second round 68 of his own.

Kilkenny’s Mark Power fired five birdies in a blistering homeward half of 31, signing for a two-under 69 for an even par 36-hole tally. Also cruising through at even par was Royal Dublin’s Hugh Foley who posted three birdies in a one-under 70.

Castle’s Robert Moran was another man navigating his way around Nairn bogey-free, landing three birdies in a three-under 68 for a plus-one total. Elm Park’s John Cleary played his closing three holes in four-under to advance at three-over par, the same score as Royal Dublin’s Max Kennedy who ground out a 75 on day two.

Dun Laoghaire’s Alan Fahy needed to put all his experience to use to produce a gutsy one-under 70 to advance at plus-five and with the cut to the top-64 falling at six-over par, Grange’s Jake Whelan also dug deep to find a one-under 70 when he needed it most to advance to the match play rounds on the magic number.

At the top, the remarkable Matthew Clark fired a course record 62 to finish clear after two rounds of stroke play qualifying in The 126th Amateur.

Clark, who has previously captained Scotland in the Men’s Home Internationals, was in blistering form during a remarkable round in which he carded nine birdies on the championship course at Nairn, including four-in-a-row on the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th holes. He also picked up a crucial shot on the last hole to ensure he finished one stroke clear of Jack Dyer on an eight-under-par total of 134.

Today’s 62 beats the previous course record of 64 jointly held by Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup captain and former Amateur Champion, Stuart Wilson, and local member Fraser Fotheringham, who is also playing in this year’s championship.

Dyer, who played for Great Britain and Ireland under Wilson in the Walker Cup last month, carded a four-under-par round of 67 that included five birdies to follow up yesterday’s round of 68 on the Moray links. The Englishman picked up shots on the 7th, 9th, 10th, 15th and 17th holes, with the only blemish being a bogey on the par four 16th, to finish in second place on a seven-under-par total of 135.

Three shots further back on a four-under-par total of 138 are Gregor Tait and Luke O’Neill. Tait, who plays out of Aldeburgh, also posted a round of 67 that included six birdies to join the Irishman on the same mark. O’Neill shot a three-under-par 68 in today’s second round of qualifying.

Nairn local Calum Scott had delighted the home contingent following his progress when he led stroke play qualifying overnight with a bogey-free round of 67 that included four birdies.

The 17-year-old, whose brother Sandy played in the Walker Cup two years ago, played steady golf in today’s second round, with a double-bogey six on the 12th and bogeys at the 4th and 14th holes undoing the good work he had made in securing birdies on the 1st, 10th and 18th. His one-over-par 72 meant the Scot finished on three-under-par 139.

With the match play stage starting from Wednesday through to Sunday’s 36-hole final, there is much at stake as the winner gains an exemption into The 149th Open at Royal St George’s and, by tradition, an invitation to play in the Masters Tournament and an exemption into the US Open.

The 36 hole final round will be live broadcast on The R&A’s YouTube and Facebook accounts as well as on randa.org

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