Fab four left standing after late drama at AIG Irish Close


Paul Conroy (Image: Golf Ireland / Thos Caffrey - Golffile)

Hugh Foley, Matthew McClean, Paul Conroy and Quentin Carew are just 36 holes away from glory ahead of tomorrow’s semi-finals at the AIG Irish Amateur Close Championship. 

Conroy and Carew progressed at the expense of Sam Murphy and Simon Walker respectively while there were late, late shows for Foley and McClean after two sensational matches with Richard Knightly and defending champion Peter O’Keeffe. 

Foley will face McClean in the pick of the last four ties at Headfort Golf Club (Championship) after a hat trick of birdies turned the match around against clubmate Knightly. 

The Clontarf native was two down standing on the 15th tee but reeled off three gains on the trot to go 1UP with one to play and after Knightly missed a seven-footer to force extra holes, his five-under back nine proved crucial in a match he described as the best he has played in a championship. 

“Richard was playing really well. He must have been two under through the turn with three birdies and I was only one over and he was making me feel like I was playing badly,” said Foley who has played 73 holes in his four matchplay rounds. “He played really well and he continued to play really well. I probably had nine holes that were my best nine holes since the North of Ireland – five birdies and four pars was really good golf. 

“I was thinking back to two down with four to go was tough. I was just going one hole at a time. Trying to get one back on the next hole. It was a great match. Neither of us threw anything away. It was just birdies which is rare. I think it’s the best match I’ve played in a championship.

“I was amazing on the back nine. I missed a four footer on nine and wasn’t putting well on the front nine and then on the back nine I just started putting great. My caddie Mark from Headfort, I got him reading putts on the back nine and I holed everything. That helped.” 

The 25-year-old is now 36 holes away from making history as he bids to emulate what Darren Clarke did in 1990 and become the first man since to win the North, South and Close titles in the same year.

“I got a video from him after the North and South congratulating me and telling me to keep working my ass off, he said. So that was a wake up call to say none of this comes without work. Let’s see what happens. I won’t think too far ahead. The next match is tomorrow morning so I will think about that. 

“Yeah, there have definitely been no easy games so far and I have gone down the last in every match. Looking at the results, you might think I am griding it but I am playing really well and everyone I have played has played really well and I have seen all the course.

“I just start from zero. It’s a different golf course and format and those wins just give me confidence. I wouldn’t get overexcited thinking ahead. There are another two matches and a long tomorrow with another tough match in the morning,

“I feel good. Adrenaline is going. Once I get a good sleep you can go again. I was hoping to get as far as I can in this event. I am feeling good. I will never say I am not feeling good. Just tell yourself you are feeling good,” smiled Foley. 

After Foley wrapped up the Bridgestone Order of Merit title this morning, meaning Matt McClean could no longer catch him, the Malone man will have his chance to strike a blow and perhaps get some revenge after he was pipped to the post at the North. 

McClean saw off O’Keeffe by the minimum after he saw a 30-foot birdie putt disappear on 18 in what was the match of the championship so far. 

“Two very tough matches, played very nicely both times, Peter is the sort of guy who never goes away and never gives you anything. He played very well and I just to’d and froed with him. It was nice to hole that 30-footer on the last, think it’s the first putt I’ve held all week. 

“It’s always nicer to do something good rather than your opponent do something bad. Neither of us did anything wrong on the way in, I think we were both two or three-under for the last five so didn’t give eachother anything to hold onto. 

“Getting the putt on 18 was a bonus.” 

McClean got off to the perfect start with a pair of opening birdies to go 2UP before dropped shots on the 5th and 8th holes helped O’Keeffe to level affairs. 

After nine straight pars, defending champion O’Keeffe registered his first birdie of the quarter-final to move his nose in front before a par from McClean tied the match.  

The Malone man birdied 12 to go back in front before O’Keeffe rattled in a 40-footer on 13 to go ahead. 

The Douglas native passed up a good birdie opportunity on the par-5 14th and after both players birdied the vulnerable par-5 16th it was McClean who had the last laugh. 

“The driver wasn’t quite as good today as it was the first two days so just try and get a bit of rhythm back with that and hit a few more fairways but the iron play has been pretty good and the short game has been good, putting been solid it’s just about holing more of those twenty footers and mid-range putts,” said McClean is one of three Irish representatives on the Eisenhower Trophy side. 

“I started pretty hot, birdied the first two then gave Peter a couple back with bogeys then he made a couple of birdies, I made a couple of birdies it was a very good game overall. 

“I birdied 12 to go 1UP then he held a 40-footer on 13 to go all square, I hit a four-iron in. I hit a great chip but it didn’t matter then he nearly birdied 14. 

“We both nearly eagled 16, he drove it 90 past me and I only had 220 in he hit it like 420 off the tee and I was miles back, I would have taken a half after the drives and had a good chance on 17, just missed. 

“With the weather it probably was the match of the championship it was my best one for scoring in the wind this afternoon so when you get to this stage and play against players like Peter you have to play well to have any chance so it was nice to be a part of it but even nicer to get the win.” 

The story of the week has been Quentin Carew, the 64th and final man to make the cut and into the semi-finals. A 2&1 win over Portumna’s Sam Murphy was enough to book his spot in the final four with birdies on 14 and 16 proving vital. 

“I’m just on a high from all of it,” smiled the Castleknock golfer. “Sunday evening I didn’t expect to get in I was 65th man and luckily a couple of lads dropped out at the end and I snook in so I knew playing Alex Maguire whatever I got from here was a bonus and thankfully I have taken advantage of it so far. 

“Each round I have had enough to get it done. 

“It was tough. The back nine was key, Sam had a bad enough start I was just doing what I had to do, made a couple of birdies and then it started to turn I made a few mistakes he had some good up and downs. 

“Ten was a big moment he had ten feet for par, I had missed the green short left and I chipped in so that was a big jump, from a bad spot it was big. I had a couple of chances to win holes and didn’t take them and then a putt fell on 13 to get one up and then he got into trouble on 14 and I was 2UP so I kept it going from there. 

“16 was big I hit a 9-iron second shot and two-putt birdie and on 17 was a two-putt par, just relieved to get it in. 

“I haven’t had much luck this year in anything really, missed a lot of cuts and recently enough I started hitting a bit of form I played decent in Mullingar, body let me down a little towards the end, I knew I was hitting the ball well and I just decided to get into it I won’t get a better chance now than where I am now and obviously the three lads are left are going to be serious. A tough one to get over the line,” added Carew who will face Paul Conroy of Enniscorthy. 

Conroy avoided any drama with a 4&2 win over Roscommon’s Simon Walker. 

“I’ve been playing well for the past two days,” said the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. “Since the second day of the stroke play, I really started hitting my irons well, and giving myself loads of chances. I haven’t thrown away any holes which nice. I’ve always been putting pressure on who I’m playing. All the lads I’ve played have done well. I’ve had some good matches so far. 

“It’d be nice to go back to America with the trophy. I don’t know if it’ll fit in the suitcase though.”

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