Doogue on top as Rosses Point links holds firm on day one of the West

Mark McGowan

Mark Doogue teeing off on the 18th hole at County Sligo Golf Club

Mark McGowan

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In a rather unexpected but most welcome turn of events, reasonably calm weather and protracted bouts of sunshine bathed County Sligo Golf Club as the Connolly Motor Group West of Ireland Championship got underway on the picturesque Rosses Point peninsula.

But any fears that the cream of the Irish amateur circuit – and several overseas visitors – would take County Sligo to pieces in as close to ideal conditions as you’re ever likely to get on the west coast in March proved unfounded, and at the end of the day, just five of the 119-man field were in red figures.

That quintet is spearheaded by Baltinglas native Mark Doogue, playing out of Castleknock Golf Club, who briefly made it to five-under before dropping shots on the difficult closing stretch, only to sign off in style with an eight-footer to birdie the last and post -4.

“Yeah, I hit the ball really well and hit 16 greens so I was really happy with that,” Doogue said. “And took care of the par-5s, it was just stress free really.”

And it was a score that was never really threatened. 2023 Bridgestone Order of Merit champion David Shiel, playing in the morning wave, reached that number after 14 holes, but 15 had been claiming victims left, right and centre and he’d drop two shots there, but was ultimately pleased with his day’s work when he rolled in a birdie putt on the last to take the early clubhouse lead at -2.

“I played really nice,” Shiel said afterwards, “started well, a couple of early birdies, but you have to have really good control of the ball. I mean, the course was playing as good as you’ll get it, I guess.

“Here, obviously a bit of wind, but it’s nice and soft. It’s in really good condition. So, yeah, good control of the ball.

“I got a little bit unlucky on 15 point. Hit it down the middle but got caught in the bank and made a bit of a mess of that. But made a good recovery and glad to finish four, three.”

Up and coming Galway Bay star Rory Gallagher had a dream start to his West of Ireland Championship debut as he birdied each of the opening three holes and then added another at five. Unfortunately, that was to be his last birdie of the day, but he’d only record two bogeys over the remaining 13 holes and he joins Shiel in a tie for second.

Carton House’s Paul O’Hanlon and James Stenson from The Island both carded rounds of 70 to complete the select grouping who can say they got the better of the course and broke par, and Stenson, playing in his maiden Golf Ireland Championship, was pleasantly surprised with the weather conditions he found.

“Yeah, like the whole of last week I practiced pretty much in torrential rain and wind, so I was prepping for the worst, but we got the best,” he said. “Yeah, I loved it. I saw the course for the first time yesterday and it’s my first men’s championship altogether. So I loved it as soon as I saw it pretty much and my home golf course is The island, so I was pretty comfortable with links golf.”

Pre-tournament favourite Matthew McClean is well placed at level-par, where he is one of a group of seven that includes former champion and veteran Eddie McCormack, Elm Park’s Robert Galligan who is home from university in Seattle to celebrate his father’s 60th birthday, and Grange’s Jake Whelan.

Reigning North of Ireland champion James Fox and recent Spanish Senior Amateur winner Joe Lyons (+1), Peter O’Keefe, Jack McDonnell and TJ Ford (+2), South of Ireland champion Colm Campbell (+3) and Hugh Foley (+4) are just some of the big names currently sitting inside the top 64 ahead of Tomorrow’s final strokeplay round which will determine who advances to the 64-man matchplay section of the tournament which commences on Sunday morning.


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