Blistering 65 for Mooney who books Senior Open ticket as top qualifier

Mark McGowan

Damian Mooney - Image by IrishGolfer / Mel Maclaine

Damian Mooney’s seven-under 65 was the standout score across the four qualifying venues ahead of this week’s Senior Open Championship at Royal Porthcawl, and the Lough Erne pro will be joined by Joe Lyons and Eamonn O’Connor.

Opting to compete at Machynys Peninsular, Mooney was out early and birdied three of the opening nine holes to enter the inward loop in good stead, and added back-to-back birdies on 10 and 11 to move to -5.

An eagle-three on the 13th put him firmly in the driving seat, but with just seven spots available and a field of 111, couldn’t afford to coast home. A bogey at 16 – his only dropped shot of the day – meant that he reached the closing hole at six-under but with 84 players still on course behind him. He’d sign off with another birdie – his sixth of the day – to post -7 and when all was said and done, he’d finish as leading qualifier with a two-stroke cushion over second place.


“It’s a very big thing to qualify for The Open,” Mooney said, “albeit for the over 50s, but I only went a few times to qualify since I was a pro because I thought there was too much to go through before there was a stage in Ireland, but to come here where it’s just a one round qualifier, a sprint really, gives you a chance. I came last year and just missed out because of a bad start, but when it’s one round, if a course suits your eye and you putt well, you’ve as good a chance as anyone in the field.

“I was surprised there were only six spots at this qualifier, I thought there’d be 10 or 12 but you don’t find that out until you come back in off the course.

“There are no leaderboards or putting in scores after three holes so you don’t know anything until you’ve marked your card and come in and get a look at the leaderboard then.

“I got to three under after nine and then when I birdied 10 and 11, I thought that -5 would possibly be enough, but every extra one would be that bit more of a cushion. We had a two-club wind so I knew that -5 would be pretty good, but then I got to -7 and I was pretty sure that that was getting in.”

Lyons, meanwhile, had chosen to enter the qualifier at Southern Down, situated just east of Porthcawl and incidentally, the venue where scoring proved toughest.

He traded a bogey and a birdie on the opening hole, but two more dropped shots on the front to just one additional birdie saw him make the turn at +1. Three birdies over a four-hole stretch from 12 though 15 saw him shoot to the head of the early leaderboard, but he’d bogey the two closing holes to ensure a long and anxious wait with 65 players yet to finish.

In the end, his level-par 70 would be good for tied third, one stroke ahead of the group tied for eighth that included Waterville’s David Higgins who’ll head to Porthcawl as an alternate having emerged in a four-for-two playoff after covering the back nine in -3 during regulation play.

“It means everything to me to qualify,” said a relieved Lyons. “I’ve been involved in golf all my life, I’m a golf fanatic, I work in the golf industry and for me to get an opportunity – I’ve had many great days playing amateur golf – but to get an opportunity to compete at a Seniors major, words can’t describe it.

“I played very well, but I must admit, I got very nervous after I made the birdies on the back nine. I was very nervous coming in the last couple of holes. I hit a weak tee shot at 17 and was forced to chip out and shaved the hole with the par putt, then missed the green with an 8-iron at the last and I was left sweating all afternoon.

“I didn’t know what to do with myself all afternoon. I was pacing up and down the car park, in an out for coffee, in and out chipping and putting, it was just so nerve-wracking but thankfully I had enough good stuff done.”

England-based Eamonn O’Connor, representing Royal Wimbledon Golf Club, was the only other successful Irish qualifier. Playing at Pyle and Kenfig, the closest of the four qualifying sites to the Senior Open host venue, O’Connor was made sweat after a late double-bogey put his chances in jeopardy after reaching -4, but in the end, with eight spots available, two-under was the magic number and his five-way tie for fourth place means he’ll make the short trip to the coast for the 36th staging of the Senior Open Championship where Darren Clarke is defending champion.


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