Flanagan keeps home fires burning on difficult day at windswept 'West'
Published 26/03/2016 | 02:30
Local favourite Sean Flanagan tamed southerly winds gusting up to 48 mph to take a one-shot lead after the opening qualifying round for the Radisson Blu-sponsored West of Ireland Amateur Open at Rosses Point.
The County Sligo man, 20, a Paddy Harrington scholarship student of business and accounting at Maynooth University, bogeyed his last two holes but still saw the numbers add up to a two-over-par 73 on a day of utter carnage in the shadow of Ben Bulben.
Last year's leading qualifier before going down to eventual champion Dermot McElroy in the semi-finals, Flanagan is embracing the heavy burden of local expectation and delighted to head 17-year-old Kevin LeBlanc from The Island by a shot in his bid for a second successive silver medal. But with the home club hoping to end a 65-year wait for a home winner that goes back to Cecil Ewing in 1950, he's gunning for the ultimate honour for a County Sligo man.
"I like the expectations," he said. "I wouldn't say it is pressure to play well. I feel like it's a confidence-booster for me and I use it that way rather than play cagey golf."
Flanagan and the rest of the morning starters arguably got the best of the conditions before a five-club wind that gusted close to 50 mph at times after lunch meant the best score in the afternoon was a four-over 75 by Naas' Jonathan Yates.
A two-wave morning and afternoon shotgun start is in operation due to lack of light and having started on the ninth, Flanagan was level-par for the day playing his last two holes but finish bogey-bogey at the seventh and eighth for a 73 that was still some 10 shots better than the average score.
LeBlanc started with a birdie at the third, then eagle the fifth with a seven-iron to 15 feet to be three-under before Rosses Point bit back and he signed for a 74 following bogeys at his last two holes.
"I'm really happy with that given the conditions," said LeBlanc, who credited the presence of Henrik Stenson's former caddie Jude O'Reilly on his bag as "massive".
Royal Dublin's Shaun Carter shot a 75 in the morning that was matched by Yates in the afternoon when the 14th, 15th, 17th and 18th required a driver and three wood for most players to get home. With just the top 64 to qualify for the match play after today's second round, the cut falls close to 22-over par, which would be the highest since 16-over 158 made it in 2008, when Shane Lowry was champion.
It was so windy that Knock's Michael Sinclair had a ball blown into the cup for a birdie at the 11th en route to an 83.