Luke Donnelly will head into the Final Stage of Alps Tour Q-School riding the crest of a wave after topping the leaderboard at the First Stage qualifier in Pescara, Italy to advance.
He’ll be joined there by fellow Irishman – but French-based – Michael Young, who came through a play-off in Miglianico to claim one of the final spots, while James Sugrue and Conor Coyne both progressed from another qualifier in Lecce.
The quartet will all play in next week’s Final Stage, which is held at two different venues near Rome, and will be joined by Robin Dawson, Marc Boucher and Simon Bryan in a bid to earn playing rights on the Alps Tour next season.
While it earns him no favours in the next stage, no doubt Donnelly will be the happiest of the four after he finished one shot clear of the chasing pack in Pescara, a two-under 68 taking him to seven-under ahead of Belgium’s Giovanni Tadiotto.
After starting the day in a share of the lead, the Kilkenny man only needed a solid second round to seal a place in Final Qualifying but he continued his fine scoring by birdieing his second hole, only to give it back at the sixth.
Birdies on the 10th and 14th were off-set by back-to-back bogeys at 12 and 13, but his crowning achievement was back-to-back birdies to finish which earned him top spot on his own to send him to Rome next week as one of the men to beat.
Meanwhile, Young had a rather more rocky path to progression as three bogeys on his back nine led to a one-over 71 that had him finishing in a seven-way tie for 19th at four-over and, with only 23 players eligible to make it through, he needed extra holes to secure his place in the Final Stage.
There was heartbreak for Rhys Clarke, however, as a triple-bogey at the par-five 14th dashed his hopes of making the cut, with a four-over 74 dropping him to six-over and, cruelly, three shots off making it into the next stage without needing to go through the play-off.
Meanwhile, at Acaya Golf Club in Lecce, Sugrue and Coyne braved the brutal conditions to progress, both finishing inside the top-eight on the final leaderboard to comfortably book their place in the next round, finishing well inside the 11-over cut mark.
Sugrue was one of the best performers of the day, the former Amateur champion starting the day just outside the top-23 at nine-over but shooting a superb three-under 67 that started with an eagle on his opening hole and included five birdies after that to claw his way back to six-over, which ended up being just six shots back of winner Hermes Ferchaud of France.
Having started inside the cut mark, a good second round would keep Coyne inside the line and he produced the goods at Acaya, albeit in a little more dramatic circumstances than he may have hoped, five birdies cancelled out by seven bogeys in a two-over 73 that ended his week at seven-over.
Like Clarke in Pescara, there was agony for Darragh Flynn as a closing bogey cost him a play-off for one of the final spots in the Final Stage of qualifying as he finished in 24th at 12-over after a three-over 74 in his second round.
It was a rollercoaster first 17 holes for Flynn – who started the day on the same score as Sugrue just outside the top-23 – featuring an eagle, two birdies, four bogeys and a double, but he was still inside the cut mark going down the last needing just a par to force extra holes, but a bogey five at the par-four ended his hopes in the cruelest fashion.
John Hickey needed a big second round to progress after an 87 in his first round and, for a while it looked like he might get it when he turned in five-under after five birdies, but back-to-back double-bogeys at the 10th and 11th preceded two further dropped shots on 15 and 17, eventually leading to a one-over 72 that left him 17-over.
Next week’s Final Stage will be played at two courses near Rome over 54 holes rather than 36, with only the top-35 from each venue being awarded Alps Tour varying degrees of status for next season based on their scoring.
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