McDonnell leads after blistering opener in Baltray

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Jack McDonnell - Royal Dublin (Image: Golf Ireland/ Thos Caffrey/ Golffile)

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Playing in his tenth East of Ireland Championship, Royal Dublin’s Jack McDonnell leads the way as he began the Kingspan sponsored event with a blistering 66 in the sunshine at Baltray.

The rough is up this year which is providing a difficult test for the 129 golfers in action but 28 players managed to shoot under par on a day when the temperature was also up in County Louth Golf Club.

There were two holes-in-one in round one with James Temple (Portmarnock) and Conor Hickey (Dooks) both on target and it is McDonnell who leads the way overall on 6-under par.

The 29-year-old was out early on Saturday morning and he started on the back-nine where three birdies in-a-row between 14 and 16 got the momentum flowing.

“The key to Baltray is par the par 3s and birdie a few of the par 5s,” said McDonnell.

“The par 5s, they are birdie chances, they are all gettable but if you are just off then it can turn into a tough par. I didn’t birdie enough of them today but that is the plan tomorrow.

“The first few holes on the back nine, that time of the morning you just want to hit them to 20 feet, take two putts and walk on stress-free.

“You always have a chance on 14 if you get a drive away. That’s what I did, hit one close there, to three feet and then took care of itself from there. Just got my run going.”

Temple was one of those who failed to reach red figures, although the Portmarnock golfer did have his hole-in-one with a sweetly struck nine iron on the par 3 fifth.

He is one of the group on one-over par alongside West of Ireland winner Keith Egan (Carton House) and Munster Stroke Play champion, Paul Coughlan (Castleknock).

Last week’s Ulster Stroke Play winner Adam Buchanan (Royal Portrush) is one shot further back with Jack Hearn (Tramore) also on that number and last year’s Bridgestone Order of Merit winner David Shiel (Enniscrone) is 3-over.

And they are all still in contention while McDonnell leads the way ahead of Geoff Lenehan (Portmarnock) and Simon Walker (Roscommon) who are both on -5.

Max Kennedy (Royal Dublin) has returned from collegiate action in USA and he posted a 68 for -4, as did David Lally (Blainroe), who is the leading U-21 challenger.

Colm Campbell (Warrenpoint) was one of the later starters and the reigning South of Ireland champion lies on -3 with Evan Farrell (Co Louth) spearheading the local charge at -2.

McDonnell is based in the nearby Ratoath and he returned to Royal Dublin to practise on Saturday night ahead of his later Round 2 tee-time of 12.30pm.

“I have come second a few times here before and a few top tens,” said McDonnell.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better start. I started on 10 which I always enjoy because you know once you par the first three or four of them holes you have a run then of a few chances. That is what happened.”

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