Kennedy and Keeling best placed as Graham leads the Amateur

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Sean Keeling (Photo by Patrick Bolger/R&A/R&A via Getty Images)

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Connor Graham took advantage of the good scoring day on the Old Course in Ballyliffin to lead the 129th Amateur Championship after the opening round of the strokeplay qualifying on what was a mixed day for the Irish.

The 17-year-old Scot, who became the youngest player to compete in the Walker Cup at just 16 last year, harnessed the testing conditions over the Old Course and opened his campaign with a six-under-par 65.

That left Graham with a one-shot lead over Spain’s Jose Luis Ballester Barrio, with Michael Alexander Mjaaseth of Norway and Sergio Jimenez of Spain lurking a stroke further back.

A bogey on the 2nd hole was not the ideal start for Graham, but the 2022 R&A Junior Open winner mounted a strong recovery and reeled off five birdies in six holes, including four in a row from the 4th hole.A dropped shot on the 12th hole was only a minor blemish on his score card that also featured an eagle on the par-5 14thhole thanks to a chip in from the edge of the green. A birdie on the 17th closed out the round.

“The 14th was the highlight for me,” said Graham.

“I hit a 3-wood (off the tee) because the driving distance downwind gets quite tight. That left me 250-yards and I hit a 4-iron just short of the green and chipped it in.

“I got off to a dodgy start but started making a few putts and then fired off four birdies in a row which really helped.”

Graham was sidelined earlier in the season with a stress fracture in his hand but he returned to competitive action with a solid showing in the St Andrews Links Trophy recently and the Blairgowrie teenager’s comeback gathered pace in Donegal.

“It’s nice to get off to a good start on quite a tricky golf course and in some pretty tough conditions,” added Graham, whose older brother Gregor opened with a level-par 71 on the Old Course.

Royal Dublin’s Max Kennedy and Roganstown star Sean Keeling are the best of the Irish on one-under after rounds of 70 on the Old Course which leaves them in a share of 16th place.

Irish Amateur Open champion Matthew McClean, Jake Whelan and Liam Nolan are all well placed on level-par after rounds of 71 on the Old.

Just 18 scores inside the top-57 and ties (86 players in total) came on the Glashedy Course with Joshua Hill of Galgorm sitting on the current cut mark on one-over after a 73 as is Bangor’s Lewis Gowdy after a 72 on the Old.

Luke O’Neill (Connemara), Eoin Murphy (Dundalk) and Paul Coughlan (Castleknock) are next best of the Irish in T115 on plus three while Ryan Griffin, Joe Lyons, Thomas Higgins, Jack McDonnell, Morgan Cain, Peter O’Keeffe, David Kitt, Thomas Abom, Darragh Flynn and Jack Hearn are all locked together on four-over.

West of Ireland champion Keith Egan who hit the opening tee shot has work to do from plus five as do Hugh Foley, Cian O’Connor and last man in Patrick Keeling from six-over-par.

Dylan Keating and Robbie Cannon are seven-over with 2022 Irish Close winner and Amateur Championship debutant Quentin Carew a shot further back.

Following two rounds of stroke play qualifying the leading 64 players will contest the match play stages.

Scoring HERE

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