Six Irish players remain at the 127th Amateur Championship after the first two rounds of the matchplay stages at Royal Lytham.
The top-64 and ties advanced from the strokeplay qualifying and into the knockout rounds on Thursday with eleven Irish hoping to keep their hopes alive.
Peter O’Keeffe produced a mammoth effort winning his preliminary round match 3&2 against Hong Kong’s Leon D’Souza before he picked up his second win of the day with a facile afternoon victory over Estonia’s Mattias Varjun by 4&2.
The Douglas native will face New Zealander James Hydes in the last-32.
One Irish player is guaranteed to be going home on Thursday after the draw pitted Mark Power and Alex Maguire against eachother in the only all-Irish encounter so far.
East of Ireland champion Maguire came through an extremely tight match to beat Frenchman Martin Couvra on the 18th hole while Power made a sensational closing birdie to see off Aussie Jack Buchanan after the duo delighted the crowd with a birdie barrage in the afternoon.
Power and Buchanan shared twelve birdies over the course of the 18 holes but it was the Kilkenny man who survived after hacking out of a bush before getting up and down for birdie from 90 yards.
“God, it was a really tough match and the way it finished was a bit wild because we played such good golf all day,” said the 2020 semi-finalist. “I think we both had six birdies and only dropped one or two shots each.
“So it was a little scrappy towards the end but to hit that shot close on 18 to get the win was huge.”
The Wake Forest student has had an inconsistent season. While he has flattered to deceive on the individual front he did help the Deacs to the ACC Championship title at the end of the season and that has given him a confidence boost heading into the heat of the amateur season.
“Personally I started to play a lot better towards the end of the year. We won the Conference Championship and Regional Championship at Wake Forest so we all started to play real nice towards the end of the year.
“It gave me a little bit of confidence coming into this tournament because I had a good run two years ago to get to the semifinals. So it was a little confidence boost and made me feel like I had some good thoughts going into this week.”
Malone’s Matthew McClean who led the Irish charge after an opening 68 around St Annes Old Links kept up his good form with a 3&2 win over Dutchman Jack Ingham to book a last-32 tie with USA’s Christian Banke.
McClean has some excellent course form at Lytham with a 6th place finish at last month’s Lytham Trophy so he will be quietly confident of going deep into the championship.
Ulster Strokeplay champion Jack Hearn is also safely through after a 2&1 win over Scotland’s Calum Scott while Caolan Rafferty showed his class and proved that he is a force to be reckoned with again after a superb comeback against Yousseff Guezzale of America.
They say 2UP with five to play never wins, and the Dundalk man came from 2 down with five to play to win on the 18th and advance.
“Yeah, happy. 2-down with five to go and turned it around, so was kind of happy to do that,” said the former Walker Cup star who has two top-10 finishes in his last two starts in Ireland.
“It’s just one step at a time. It’s a golf course I actually really like. It’s fair for everyone. You don’t have to hit it long. You just have to plot your way around. Just keep doing what I’m doing and being gritty and annoying people as much as I can and hopefully be here for another few days.”
O’Keeffe was the only Irishman to advance from the morning preliminary round as Ryan Griffin, John Cleary and Paul Coughlan all bowed out while there were last-64 defeats for Royal Dublin’s Richard Knightly (2&1) while Luke O’Neill of Connemara came out on the wrong side of an agonising 1UP scoreline against Holland’s Kiet van der Weele.