Disappointment for the Irish as Kennedy and Keeling the sole survivors at Amateur Championship

Mark McGowan

Max Kennedy(Photo by Oisin Keniry/R&A/R&A via Getty Images)

Mark McGowan

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With 26 players in the field, hopes were high of a strong Irish challenge at the 129th Amateur Championship at Ballyliffin, but after the conclusion of the 36-hole strokeplay section, just Max Kennedy and Sean Keeling were in the top 64 and now advance to matchplay.

Hoping to emulate James Sugrue who emerged victorious when the Amateur Championship was staged at Portmarnock in 2019, the duo will now have to face five one-on-one matches to reach the final, but the first step, at least, is complete.

Keeling was among the early starters on day two and carded a three-over round on the tougher of the two courses to finish on +2 overall and in 36th place.

The 17-year-old is an honorary member at Ballyliffin and was naturally satisfied to be among the 64 qualifiers.

“I’ll take it,” he said. Played quite solid. Had a good game plan and holed a few putts. Keep it in the fairways. Fairways and greens as much as you can and just try and make pars and try to sneak the odd birdie.

Kennedy was also playing the Glashedy Course in round two and carded a very respectable one-over which left him on level-par in 16th place.

“Yeah, very happy. Got the job done today. It wasn’t easy at times. The Glashedy played very difficult but was able to get it done,” said the Royal Dublin man.

The University of Louisville student rarely gets the opportunity to play big competitions in his home country and it adds additional motivation.

“Motivates me a hundred percent,” he explained. “I love it. I love playing in my home country, and I never get the chance to do so. I’m very happy.”

Scotland’s Connor Graham stood firm on a testing day to finish as the leading qualifier.

The 17-year-old from Blairgowrie, who led the 288-strong field after an opening 65 on Ballyliffin’s Old Course, fortified his position at the top with a one-under-par 71 over the Glashedy Links.

Walker Cup player Graham ended his 36-hole stroke play campaign with a seven-under-par aggregate of 136 and finished three strokes clear of Norway’s Michael Alexander Mjaaseth.

South Africa’s Ben van Wyk, who was the leading qualifier in last year’s Championship, rose up the leaderboard into third place on three-under with a 67 on the Glashedy Links.

Graham, a former winner of The R&A Junior Open, will now look to carry his growing momentum into the match play phase as he aims to become just the fourth player after Philip Parkin, Warren Bladon and Matteo Manassero to win the qualifier and go on to capture the title.

During a chilly, breezy day which added plenty of menace and mischief to the golfing examination, Graham put in a composed, considered display and cemented his place at the top of the standings.

One-over through 14 holes, the former Scottish Open Amateur Stroke Play champion made a strong push for the line and picked up birdies on the 15th and 17th holes to dip under-par.

Mjaaseth briefly moved to the top after three birdies on the front nine of his second round over the Glashedy Links and reached the turn in three-under.

A bogey on the 10th, however, was followed by a double-bogey on the 12th as the Norwegian’s round began to unravel.

Mjaaseth steadied the ship with a neatly executed up and down for birdie on the 17th to ease into the match play stage with a 72 for four-under.

Van Wyk’s day had started with a bogey on the 1st hole, which only served as motivation as he made a birdie on the 4th before holing his second shot from 40 yards on the 6th for an eagle. Further birdies at the 17th  and 18th  saw van Wyk qualify in style.

English teenager Oscar Lent also produced a grandstand finish and birdied the 16th before rolling in a long eagle putt of 50-feet on the 17th in a one-under-par 71 on the Glashedy Links for a two-under total.

The qualifying mark for the leading 64 players and ties fell at three-over-par. With 19 players, including Spain’s Jose Luis Ballester Bario who birdied his final three holes highlighted by a 35 foot putt at the 18th,  competing in a sudden death playoff for 18 places in the match play stage of the Championship. Results will be posted to The R&A Virtual Media Centre at the conclusion of play.

Richard Teder of Estonia, last year’s quarter finalist at Hillside, Walker Cup player Jack Bigham and recent St Andrews Link Trophy champion Sebastian Cave all progressed. Notable players to miss out included the highest ranked player Christiaan Maas of South Africa, former Walker Cup players Matthew McClean and Liam Nolan as well as the R&A Boys’ Amateur champion Kris Kim.

The winner of Saturday’s 36-hole Final will secure exemptions into The 152nd Open at Royal Troon next month, the US Open, and, by tradition, an invitation to play in the Masters Tournament.

The Amateur Championship is one of the biggest and most prestigious amateur championships in the world and features a starting line-up of 288 players.

The first Amateur was held at Hoylake in 1885 where 44 players from 12 clubs competed. Some of golf’s greatest names have triumphed in the event, including Bobby Jones, José María Olazábal and Sergio Garcia.

Spectators are welcome and can attend free of charge or people can watch the final two days live at home on R&A TV.

View stroke play scoring from The Amateur Championship here.

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