Alex Maguire said he had battle through mental adversity to secure a second successive East of Ireland Amateur Open Championship after he held on for a sensational play-off win over fellow local Caolan Rafferty and Sam Murphy in Baltray.
The 22-year-old, who was reigning champion coming into this week, kept himself alive in the competition thanks to a phenomenal putt on the 71st hole at County Louth Golf Club.
The Laytown and Bettystown clubman did it again on the last and then when Rafferty (Dundalk) and Murphy (Portumna) challenged in the play-off it was Maguire who showed all of his experience, to outlast them over the three play-off holes in front of a huge crowd in the sweltering heat.
“I’ve been under pressure for the whole week, and I’m delighted,” said Maguire.
“I set myself with high expectations and I felt like I was losing it out there in the back nine but held two clutch putts in the last two holes.
“I’m just glad it’s all over, it’s a relief. Last year it was more fun and enjoyment because of how I did it but this is more relief being in contention from day one.
“During lunch I was looking up at the winners and I was trying to see who won it back-to-back and all of a sudden I was like, no no, get back into the zone.
“I was getting caught up with winning and even through four holes today all I could think about was winning. It was a mental battle out there.
“It’s great and I love the support but when everyone starts saying you are favourite you start believing it which is why I went out this week to have as much fun as possible.”
The crowds were out early to follow Maguire and he was brilliant in the third round, for the second day in a row he birdied 18 and carded a 69 on his way to a two-shot lead. His playing partners Murphy and Shane McDermott (Slieve Russell) were giving chase on -7 while Harry Gillivan carded a 72 to stay on -6.
Two birdies in the first six holes helped the Portmarnock man mount his challenge in the final round. Murphy and McDermott both birdied the seventh and the local favourite couldn’t pull clear following a bogey on the fifth.
Jack McDonnell (Forrest Little) was the biggest mover at the right end of the standings in the afternoon, he was -4 for ten holes and two shots in arrears in fifth. Maguire birdied the eighth and he kept his nose in front although a timely move from Rafferty saw him also close in.
Murphy caught fire and with back-to-back birdies and he drew level alongside Maguire as they turned to the 12th. Both leaders double bogeyed and when McDermott sunk a long birdie putt it left three players tied on -8, just one shot in front of Gillivan. McDonnell had begun to slip but there were still plenty of players in contention.
A birdie on 14 ensured Rafferty made it a four-way tie at the top but Maguire missed and Murphy came up with one of his own to take solo lead on then 13th when he got to -9.
Rafferty made a fantastic birdie on the 17th to put him on -9. He smashed his drive down the last hole but his approach caught a bunker in front of the green. A par set him as the clubhouse leader.
He was caught by Maguire and Murphy and those three got off to a solid start in the play-off as they all had close birdie putts that just missed. They headed to the second hole tied on level par.
Rafferty and Maguire pulled ahead of Murphy, after both making birdies, on the 2nd. It was Maguire who eventually got ahead as he hit a super shot into three feet on the last play-off hole.
He converted his putt for birdie to beat Rafferty by one stroke and retain his title, the first player to do that in the East since Raymond Burns back in 1993.
And with two wins in the East along with his previous North success, the Florida Atlantic University student is happy with his form at the moment.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to play every single event over there (in the USA),” said Maguire.
“Playing events is what has gotten me better and improved more. You can go over there for facilities and a practise range and you can go to Carton House and have a better facility here.
“It’s more to do with experience on the course and being in contention. That’s where you find your swing faults.”