Cian Geraghty is the man to catch after the opening day of the 112th Irish PGA Championship sponsored by Colombia Sportswear in Carne Golf Links after a five-under 67 propelled him to the summit.
The Laytown & Bettystown professional struck fifteen greens in regulation to open a two-shot lead over former Amateur champion Brian McElhinney, Neil O’Briain and Richard Weldon who carded three-under 69s.
“A good start, played nicely. The course was set up nice for scoring to a point,” explained Geraghty who soon ditched the bucket hat for a beanie in the gale at Carne Golf Links. “The conditions were tough enough with some pins the right side of bowls and some tees were a box up so you didn’t have to hit driver, you could plot your way around because if there was back tees there would be cricket scores shot with the conditions so difficult.
“I kind of just kept plodding along. I was four-under at the turn, stiffed a couple. I hit fifteen greens which in those conditions is great ball striking so I was never under much stress really.”
A damp and misty morning greeted the early starters before the sun finally broke out conveying the Belmullet dunes in all their glory and it led to some excellent scoring, despite the gale force wind blowing across numerous holes.
Geraghty made a blistering start with three birdies in his opening four holes as he took advantage of the two par fives in the first four holes.
A fourth birdie of the day on the ninth saw him turn in 33 to give him a foundation in the round and raise eyebrows over a potential course record.
Further gains on the 11th and 13th saw Geraghty stretch his lead to three at the top. However, he let one slip late on with a dropped shot on 17 after finding trouble off the tee and a pulled second on the par-5 18th left him with a very difficult up and down and he was forced to settle for a par.
“Got a good break on 13 on my third shot on top of the ridge I hit a putt that was going ten feet by but hit the pin and went in. You need that bit of luck to shoot a good score on another day it goes by but yeah I’m happy,” admitted Geraghty who is looking to keep plotting his way from A to B and see where that leaves him on Saturday evening.
“I’ve been playing good golf, a lot of casual golf but golf is golf so Bettystown would be similar but this would be a lot longer. Bettystown is a plotters course so I felt at home.
“There’s a long way to go but I’ll just keep plodding around and see what happens.”
North West Golf Club’s McElhinney is a seasoned campaigner at this level and his links prowess came to the fore with three birdies in a back nine of 32.
“I’m delighted, I played really well,” said the Donegal native. “Tee to green I was really solid and I did what I had to do when putting, hit it in close a few times and made birdies and managed to two-putt from further away I the difficult conditions.
“I played really well on the back nine, a couple of other chances that just missed but overall I was delighted to play so well on the back nine and come in with a good score I knew the conditions were tough and anything under-par would be a good score.”
The former Masters participant has company in the shape of Black Bush pro Weldon who laid the foundations for his round after roaring out of the traps with four birdies in five holes.
Weldon carded just two bogeys on the 2nd and 16th but recovered from the latter with a closing birdie.
“Had a bit of a wayward one off the second it’s just a quirky tee shot, chipped out tried to make four, made five but then had three birdies on the trot,” said Weldon who played all three rounds here last year.
“I haven’t been playing a whole lot this year I was playing alright coming in here, expectations weren’t too high but I was quietly confident. Wedge play wasn’t quite as sharp and I missed a few putts to do a bit of work on that this afternoon.”
Elsewhere there is a five-way tie for fourth place on two-under including two-time champion Damien McGrane who had a tale of two nines. After breezing to the turn in 33 like Geraghty, the Carlow Golf Club professional dropped three shots on the back nine before closing with a welcome birdie.
“I was happy enough with my golf, I came in with small expectation,” explained the Kells native. “Birdied the first hole which is a good start, birdied the last which is a good finish. A few bogeys in between but I was always going to have that I play so little golf now that I’m very rusty so if an opportunity comes to throw one away I will.
“It’s nice to have a good start I’m delighted to have it and it’s nice to be here in Carne Links.”
Also on two-under are Damian Mooney of Lough Erne, Druids Glen’s Patrick Geraghty, Paul Eivers of Cahir Park and Liam Power who recovered from an over-par front nine with three birdies in five holes to post a 70.
“Delighted now, any score under-par or around par is brilliant,” said Power. “I have played it a couple of years now and it’s brilliant.
“The wind was getting up, just grinded it out couple of good putts and just played smartly all day and was delighted to finish that way.”
Defending champion and hat trick hunting David Higgins of Waterville has work to do from two-over after a 74 while three-time winner Simon Thornton is lurking in the long grass on one-under.
2013 winner Michael McGeady is level-par while 2017 winner Tim Rice is a shot further back on one-over.
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