McConnell digs deep in taming wild West on way to sealing one-shot lead
Ballyclare's Simon McConnell was the only player to beat the brutish Rosses Point on the opening day of the Radisson-Blu West of Ireland championship.
While most of the field struggled with the early holes at the Sligo links yesterday, McConnell hit back from an opening bogey to birdie the second, third and fifth, and although a bogey followed on the seventh, he birdied the 11th to leave him two under for the day playing the difficult 17th.
Despite drawing a bad lie from his tee shot there and taking a double bogey, he birdied the last to take the outright lead by one from Lucan teenager Richard O'Donovan.
"I'm over the moon," said McConnell afterwards. "It wasn't easy -- the wind died down for the last four holes but with the wind and rain, I would have been happy with a 75 standing on the first tee.
"I putted really well today -- I had a great day on the greens, which was important (because of) where the pins were on some holes. I felt a bit unlucky to get a bad lie off the tee on the 17th, but I was delighted with the birdie at the end.
"There are far better players in the field than me, so it's great to be in with a shout. But we'll see."
O'Donovan, meanwhile, blistered his way through the back nine in 32 (three under) after dropping three shots on the way to closing out his round.
"It was a great round for me to be honest. To come back in three under was great -- I think the back nine was harder to be honest with the wind off the left. But I hit the ball great, and I putted well to keep the momentum," O'Donovan said.
"I'm out early tomorrow so hopefully the weather will hold. It's all about making the cut. I'll just keep plugging away."
One shot further back on one over are Rathmore's Alan Dunbar, Moyola Park's Luke Lennox and Newlands' Andrew Hogan.
Castle's Darragh Lernihan looked set to join the leading group when he reached the 17th tee level for his round. But a bogey there was followed by a disaster at the last, where he hit two drives out of bounds.
From his second provisional (his fifth), he made birdie to finish the hole with a seven, and lies in a large pack on four over.
Galway's Joe Lyons, the most recent West of Ireland champion in this year's field, opened with a 77, while Irish Close champion Pat Murray (Limerick) suffered disaster on the front nine on his way to an 83.
Due to conditions slowing down play, the first round was suspended at 8.10pm with a handful of players due out at 7.45 this morning to finish. Tee times are not being affected for the second round.
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