Composed Leonard display delivers first 'major'
BANBRIDGE'S Rory Leonard stayed well and truly 'in the moment' to win the Radisson-Blu West of Ireland title in Rosses Point yesterday, beating Galway's Eddie McCormack on the 17th green in the final.
Having finished runner-up in amateur championships on four occasions, Leonard banished premature thoughts of a first big win and played steady and composed golf in a tense final at the Sligo links.
Leonard took the lead at the fifth with a birdie, doubled it with another at the short ninth, and halved every hole after that to capture the trophy -- his second win in recent times after clinching the Lee Valley Scratch Cup two weeks ago.
"It's hard to put into words at the moment to be honest. It hasn't really sunk in," he said after his 2 and 1 victory over McCormack in the final.
"I've worked very hard on my game all winter with Richard Kilpatrick, a good friend of mine. It's really made a difference, and it's been great to put together the results over the last couple of weeks."
McCormack drew a huge supporting crowd, many of whom travelled from Galway to cheer him on and in the early stages it looked to be his day when he birdied the long third. He had erred right off the tee, while Leonard had played the hole in textbook fashion. However, while McCormack got up and down from 130 yards, Leonard took three from just right of the green.
The Galway player's advantage didn't last long, however -- he three-putted the fourth for a bogey and the long fifth for a par, mistakes, which Leonard capitalised on to go one up.
A brave par putt from 10 feet at the sixth stopped the bleeding for McCormack, but Leonard doubled his lead with a birdie-two at the ninth.
With his two-hole lead, Leonard played the perfect containing match, sharing the 10th with McCormack in par fours, the 11th in bogey fives, and the next five holes in par figures.
The long par-four 17th seemed to offer McCormack his chance to erode the deficit. Leonard missed the fairway to the left and, from a poor lie, could not reach the green.
McCormack did, finding himself below the hole some 20 feet away. However, his first putt came up five feet short, and he could not convert his par effort after Leonard had made five.
"To be honest I thought I was going up the 18th," Leonard reflected.
"I can certainly feel for Eddie as I've been in this position before several times. I knew I was going to get a hard match today though -- I'm just delighted to have played so steady.
"There wasn't really a vital turning point in the match, but Eddie had a chance at the 14th for birdie. When he missed that and I got my par putt -- looking back, that was probably the crucial point for me."
Leonard advanced to the final by virtue of a 3 and 1 win over Headfort's Rory McNamara, while McCormack triumphed on the same scoreline against Knock's Michael Sinclair.