Donegal’s Cian Harkin produces the goods on day two to lead the Connolly’s Audi West of Ireland

Mark McGowan

Cian Harkin (Image: Irish Golfer)

Mark McGowan

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Letterkenny’s Cian Harkin produced a sublime three-under 68 to move into the solo lead at level-par after 36-holes at the Connolly’s Audi West of Ireland Championship at County Sligo Golf Club, one stroke ahead of a quartet that includes reigning Irish Amateur champion Quentin Carew.

Despite the tournament committee delivering a setup that saw the course shortened by some 150 yards from the opening day, strong winds swept in from the south from the off, and the early starters in particular struggled with the conditions.

Harkin was out late in the afternoon in the fourth-to-last group and the DCU student wasted little time in making his move. Three birdies in the opening six holes signalled his intent, and he added another at the 11th to get to -4 for the day, albeit with the tough finishing six that would all play into the teeth of the wind yet to navigate.

Back-to-back bogeys on the par-4 14th and 15th holes looked to have put the brakes on Harkin’s charge, but he steadied the ship with an excellent lag putt at 16 before an incredible 5-iron up the hill set up a 15-foot birdie putt that he’d drain to tame the beastly 17th hole, and he’d par the last to post the round of the tournament thus far.

“It’s my second proper West of Ireland,” an understandably delighted Harkin said afterwards, “I played last year and played the qualifier two years ago, and I love playing in the wind. When I heard it was going to be windy, I’m not too fazed by it. I knew I was going well, then when the two photographers come you definitely know. It’s a strange sensation when you’re putting with two big camera lenses on you.

“I got to four-under on the 11th, but I knew the toughest stretch was coming and I probably went into defensive mode a little which isn’t really wise, but I managed to stick with it.”

The birdie on 17 is one of only two in the tournament – Jordan Hood made the first in round one – and it was all about the approach. “I swung as hard as I could at the drive and kind of knuckled it and it went into the gap, but I was on the downslope and I had to try and manipulate it because there was a tuft of grass behind it. I had six out initially, but I knew because I had so much manipulation to do that I was adding loft so I decided to take one more and swing easier.” It came out like a bullet and never left the flag.

James Claridge’s two-under 69 looked set to be the round of the day before it was eclipsed by the late finishing Harkin. The young Englishman went bogey-free alongside Roganstown’s Patrick Keeling who himself fired an impressive 73.

Birdies on the par-5 fifth and 12th holes and 16 pars saw the West of Ireland debutant tie the clubhouse lead, missing just one fairway in the process. Full of confidence after a win at the 54-hole Berkhamsted Trophy with three consecutive rounds in the sixties the week prior, Claridge is knocking on the door of the England team and is fast putting himself in the picture for Walker Cup consideration.

“I played pretty well yesterday,” Claridge said after his round, “but I didn’t hit my irons as well as I usually do and struggled with spin a little, but I spoke to my coach last night and – I know it’s cliché – but I just went out there today and trusted the process. Look, it’s windy out there so it’s just trying to get it inside 20-feet. My putting was pretty good today, so yeah, didn’t make a bogey or three putt. Just stuck to it and played solid.”

Claridge sits alongside Quentin Carew, Jordan Hood and Rory Williamson at one-over, with a two-stroke gap back to the trio of David Shiel, Jack McDonnell and James Hewitt.

“It was really tough,” said Carew, “I’m wrecked after it. It’s so hard mentally just to keep going when the wind’s howling and you’re just trying to keep the bad holes off the card, you know, don’t make anything worse than bogey.”

With the top 90 and ties making the 36-hole cut, +15 would be the mark with 89 players on 15-over or better, with Portmarnock’s Shane McGlynn’s second-round 74 making him the leading contender from the six who finished at +16.

With weather conditions set to deteriorate tomorrow as heavy rain is added to the mix, a volatile day on the leaderboard is to be expected as the 90-man field battle it out for the all-important 16 places as the format moves to match play on Monday.


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