Four birdies in his last six holes saw Keith Egan leap from the pack and into the lead after day one of the AIG Irish Men’s Amateur Close Championship at a wet and windy Malone Golf Club.
The Carton House golfer fired three birdies in a row from the thirteenth to edge in front before a closing birdie saw him sign for a four-under 66 and a two-shot lead over Walker Cup hopeful Robert Moran and Simon Ward on a day where only seven players shot in red figures.
“I played really solid all the way round, it’s a very demanding golf course and the weather was very demanding so I’m very pleased with how I played from tee to green,” said Egan who was level-par after ten holes courtesy of two birdies and two bogeys.
“Before going out a few of the lads were saying anything around level par around that golf course would be very good because it doesn’t really let up, it’s so demanding. I just got it going around the turn made a poor bogey on ten and then hit it really well for four or five holes and picked up some shots but on that course it can go the other way easily if you don’t hit it well off the tee. I am very pleased.”
Malone Golf Club certainly showed its teeth on the opening day with Castle’s Moran the only player to break par from the morning wave as he opened up an early two-shot advantage after a 68. Conditions improved slightly in the afternoon as did the scoring with a further six players including Egan ending the day in red figures.
Also under par are Adam Cromwell, Jordan Boles, David Howard and Jack McDonnell who all carded rounds of 69. Egan has made a habit of starting championships well and was relieved to keep the big numbers off the card, likening Malone to Headfort where he reached the knockout stages last year.
“It matters even more so here. When I say that I mean that it is a parkland that is very dense a lot of parklands that we play if you hit your driver off line you need it to be way off line to be punished. In Malone you don’t get away with it because each hole is an individual hole, if you spray it five yards you will be stuck under a tree where if you go 50 yards off line it’s a lost ball. It reminds me of Headfort, we saw in the Irish Close last year people either loved it or hated it, if you weren’t really on your game you were shooting high numbers and it seems like the same thing here.”
There will be no knockout stages for Egan and co this time around as the Close enters the first of a two-year trial period of 72 hole strokeplay so the reward for his opening 66 might be a lot more than just a place in a knockout round after 36 holes.
Questions have been raised about the new 72-hole strokeplay format and whether it will suit the full time amateurs more or not but Egan feels given the weather conditions the championship might produce the best ball strikers regardless if you are full time or part time and that is reflective in the top-10 after day one with Egan, Moran, Quentin Carew, Liam Nolan, Jack Hearn and McDonnell all in the upper echelon of the leaderboard.
“I don’t know, only time will tell over the course of 72 holes and I think on this golf course it can bite you anytime. It feels more rewarding than if you shoot one low round it doesn’t just start from scratch after 36 holes of qualifying,” explained Egan. “We chop and change between each tournament with formats that you have to take each round for what it is and then whatever golf you play next, it is what it is. Just try play as well as I can and let the rest figure itself out.
“I think it’s more about who is in form with their ball striking will rise to the top on this course, just because of how demanding it is you will need four really solid rounds to get it done around here. I don’t know whether that suits lads who are full time or not full time whoever knows their game really well will thrive around here. There are no real pockets of holes to take advantage of so you need to be focused the whole way round and grind it out all the way.”
Other notable scores include Darcy Hogg (Belvoir Park) on level par who has won the Ulster Foursomes in Malone over the last two years while Naas man Robert Brazill is two-over-par after a 72 with Peter O’Keeffe two shots further back.