A bogey-free 66 at the par-72 Hillside Course was enough to see Caolan Rafferty finish the strokeplay section of the Amateur Championship in a tie for sixth place, and he’s joined in the knockout stages by Alex Maguire, Liam Nolan, Marc Boucher and Luke O’Neill.
Rafferty started the second and final stroke-play round at -2 after shooting 69 at Southport and Ainsdale Golf Club on the opening day, and shot matching nines of three-under to comfortably book his place in the matchplay section.
“Just making the 64 is all you look for,” Rafferty humbly said afterwards, “and obviously the further up you finish just proves you’re playing half decent, but I’ve had plenty of sickeners over the years of finishing well up in the strokeplay qualifying and going out in the first round of the matchplay. It’s all out the window now and it’s back to a new competition really.”
A good start to the round afforded Rafferty the luxury of knowing that he didn’t have to go into chase mode on the back nine. “I kept myself out of the bad trouble,” he explained, “and if I missed the green, my short game is pretty good at the momenAlex t so I was getting up and down, and holed a couple of decent-length putts of 15-18 feet, the rest was kind of tidy, chipping and putting stone dead and played the par-5s well as well which is a big help.
“The few birdies on the front took the pressure off, you’re quite comfortable then once you don’t make any big mistakes. On the back nine then I was just trying to hit middle of greens and two-putt and if one drops then it’s a bonus. I hit one close on 15 for birdie, into about three feet, so that was kinda the icing on the cake. But just get the job done and move on.”
Rafferty was out in the early afternoon, and though the wind was picking up, the morning starters experienced reasonably heavy rain at various stages which offered little tangible advantage to those on either side of the draw.
Teeing off around the same time as Rafferty was East of Ireland and St. Andrews Links champion Alex Maguire, though the Laytown and Bettystown man was in action at Southport and Ainsdale and had work to do after shooting +2 at Hillside.
Level-par for the round through 10, Maguire had it all to do on the closing eight, but he’d make five threes in that eight-hole stretch, making birdie at 11 and 15, an eagle on the 16th, before closing out with another birdie on the last to make it safely through.
He’s joined at -3 by Irish Amateur champion Liam Nolan and Carton House’s Marc Boucher and Connemara’s Luke O’Neill, with Kilkenny’s Mark Power, who finished at -2, completing the Irish lineup in the knockout stage.
With 85 players finishing at -2 or better and 64 to qualify for the first round proper, 42 players will have to compete in the preliminary knockout round, and Nolan, Boucher, O’Neill and Power all fall into that bracket. By virtue of shooting 66 in the second round, Maguire qualifies for the first-round proper in a break of tie.
Power is first out at 07:18 and faces Welshman James Ashfield, O’Neill plays Norwegian Michael Mjaaseth at 09:24, Boucher will square off with England’s Jack Bigham at 09:42, and Nolan is last out against another Englishman in Kim Kris at 10:00.