Defending champion TJ Ford and leading qualifier Joshua Hill both crashed out in the first round of the South of Ireland Championship at Lahinch on Friday as the top-64 was whittled down to 16 at the end of the day.
Ford’s defence of the title he won last year came to an end on the 20th hole to Gavin O’Neill despite a gallant fightback on the back nine.
The Rosses Point man found himself three down at the turn but rallied to force extra holes before he finally succumbed to the debutant.
O’Neill of Malahide found himself two up with two to play but some classic matchplay moments went against him as Ford rolled in a birdie from 15 feet on 17 before he shaved the edge and Ford cracked the 18th in two while he was unable to get down in two from right of the green.
The matchplay moments swung the way of O’Neill on the 20th who made a superb birdie after finding trouble off the tee to book his spot in the last-32.
“I was two-up with two to play and happy enough and TJ birdied the 17th and 18th,” O’Neill explained. “I hit it to 10 feet on 17 and he rolled his in from 15 feet and I shaved the edge. Then on 18 he was on in two and I didn’t get up and down from the right side of the green.
“Down 19 we go and they way we were playing it could have gone 23 or 24 holes but I birdied the 20th to win.
“I nearly it the clubhouse with my drive, it went that far left and then I hit a great shot just over the back of the green, chipped to eight feet and made it and he missed from just inside me.”
O’Neill was beaten in the last-32 by David Reddan Jnr of Nenagh.
Galgorm’s Hill looked like the man to beat after he flirted with a 59 in a dazzling second round of 62 that saw him lead the pack from the 36-hole qualifier but he suffered the curse of the leader and was downed 3&2 by Westport’s Harry Gillivan.
Gillivan also beat Robert Abernathy by the same margin to keep his dreams alive.
Some big names will be absent from tomorrow’s third round most notably, West of Ireland winner Alan Fahy, Caolan Rafferty, Marc Boucher, Jack McDonnell and East of Ireland champion Alex Maguire.
Former Irish Amateur and Close champion Peter O’Keeffe qualified in the middle of the pack, and he took two scalps on his way to announcing himself as a serious contender for this title, defeating Boucher and Maguire 2UP and 3&2.
It has been a disappointing season for the Douglas native by his own lofty standards but he has enjoyed deep runs in the championships that have been qualifying/matchplay including a run to the quarter-finals of the Amateur Championship in Royal Lytham.
The former Challenge Tour pro was delighted to get two confidence boosting wins over two Irish teammates and he is hoping for tougher conditions over the weekend.
“I knew looking at the draw today it was going to be a tough day,” O’Keeffe reflected. “Marc Boucher being an Irish teammate and I knew if I got passed him it was likely going to be Alex Maguire.
“I knew if I got through two really good matches it might set me up for the tournament. I played nice today, I haven’t played well all year, played OK at the British Amateur just got a bit of a run and I feel a bit the same this week. Played very average in qualifying, just been struggling technically a little bit but still trying to work on it at the same time so I am OK with that.
“Lahinch is a really good course for me, I have done well here without winning, got pretty far a lot so I’m hoping a bit of wind gets up and the course plays as long as possible and we’ll go from there.”
Liam Nolan got revenge for his West of Ireland final defeat to Bray’s Alan Fahy with a 3&1 win in round one before he eased by Shane Hogan of the Heritage 4&2 to book a round three clash with Jack Doherty.
There will be home representation in the shape of Aaron McNulty after the Lahinch man saw off Rafferty and fellow clubmate Stephen Loftus to book a date with Robert Brazill after the Naas man saw off David Kitt following a bye into the second round.
North of Ireland champion Hugh Foley is still on course for successive wins after setting up a round three clash with Dundalk’s Eoin Murphy.
The Royal Dublin golfer beat Cork’s Gary O’Flaherty 3&1 before edging past Roganstown’s Joshua McCabe 2&1 in the afternoon.
Colm Campbell Jnr enjoyed the biggest win of the day with the Irish Amateur champion romping to a 7&6 victory over Faithlegg’s Alex King and after he showed there’s life in one of the older dogs at the Island with his second Irish title, 2009 South of Ireland winner Robbie Cannon rekindled his love affair with this famous old links as he advanced to the last-16.
The Balbriggan man saw off Dylan Keating 3&2 before raising eyebrows with a 2&1 win over Irish international Jack McDonnell to set up a match with Gillivan.
Meanwhile Paul Coughlan will face Keith Egan tomorrow and Reddan Jnr will battle with Max Kennedy. Campbell Jnr will play Sean Flanagan after the Portmarnock man came through a marathon match with Fermoy’s Dean O’Riordan in the anchor game.
Flanagan eventually survived, coming through on the 22nd hole.