Kennedy the last Irishman standing at 129th Amateur

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

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Max Kennedy will carry Irish hopes into the last 32 of The 129th Amateur Championship at Ballyliffin.

On a bright and breezy day over the Glashedy Links, Kennedy was left as the last Irishman standing after easing to a 3&2 win over France’s Oscar Couilleau in the opening match play round.

A total of 28 host nation hopefuls had started the week but only Kennedy and Sean Keeling passed the stern 36-hole stroke play qualifying rounds.

Keeling fell at the first hurdle with a 5&3 loss to the trailblazing Lev Grinberg, who is the first Ukrainian golfer to reach the match play rounds.

But Kennedy marched on in his quest to emulate the success of his compatriot, James Sugrue, who won the title the last time The Amateur Championship was held on Irish soil, at Portmarnock, in 2019.

Kennedy’s impressive short game was a valuable asset as the 22-year-old Dubliner forged a two-hole advantage on the outward half.

Two important up-and-downs, meanwhile, from tricky spots in the bunkers at the 9th and the 10th kept Couilleau at bay.

Those helped Kennedy set up a second round duel with England’s Charlie Forster, who edged out Spain’s European Amateur champion, Jose Luis Ballester Barrio, at the second extra hole.

Scotsman Connor Graham, the leading qualifier, was pushed all the way to the 18th by England’s Mark Stockdale in the opening match of the day but staved off his opponent’s advances with a birdie putt of 25-feet on the last to clinch a one-hole victory.

Graham, whose Blairgowrie club-mate Bradley Neil won The Amateur Championship at Royal Portrush a decade ago, endured a shaky spell around the turn and took two to extricate himself from the bunker on the 9th before losing a ball with a wayward drive off the 10th tee.

The 17-year-old Walker Cup player regained his composure, however, and emerged triumphant from a keenly contested match.

South African golfers have won the last two Amateur Championships and hopes of a triple crown rest with sole survivor, Jordan Burnand, who beat Spain’s Pablo Alperi Lopez by a 3&1 margin.

As well as trying to keep South Africa’s winning run going, Burnand has an added incentive this week. The 23-year-old celebrates his birthday on the eve of the final on Friday.

Four-up through 11 holes, Burnand did not have it all his own way on the back-nine but the reigning South African Stroke Play champion got himself over the winning line during a nip-and-tuck encounter.

Walker Cup player Conor Gough, who won the R&A Boys’ Amateur Championship in 2018, underlined his match play prowess with a 3&1 victory over Denmark’s Jamie Tofte Nielsen.

His fellow Englishman, Oscar Lent, enjoyed a commanding 6&5 win over the Asia-Pacific Amateur champion, Jasper Stubbs of Australia, while there were first round victories too for Walker Cup players Calum Scott, James Ashfield and Jack Bigham.

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 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.

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 match play scoring from The Amateur Championship here.

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