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murphy irons out problems

Ireland's Gary Murphy is clinging to the hope that his season is finally about to have lift-off.

Forced to return to the European Tour qualifying school for the first time in seven years last November, the 37-year-old from Kilkenny was relieved to win back his card with only a single stroke to spare.

But in 10 starts since then Murphy has missed eight halfway cuts and not finished in the top 40 of the other two. With earnings of just over £6,000 he is down in 246th place on the money list.

Now he is at Pula in Majorca and a two under par 68 took him into today's second round in joint third place three strokes behind South African James Kingston.

"It's been pretty drastic really," said the former Irish amateur champion. "It's been hard to take at times, but I've struggled with the change in grooves.

"I've had five sets of irons already, but finally I've got a set I feel that are doing what I feel they should do. I've got good vibes and we'll just see how things go.

"I took advantage of the fine weather early on and played lovely," said the Kilkennyman. "Then I hit a brick wall -- those bogeys came out of nowhere and it would have been really frustrating to finish level par. I've been well used to frustration this year. I've never struggled that much."

South Africa's Kingston led by two after an opening 65. Damien McGrane (74), Colm Moriarty (74) and Paul McGinley (75) had to struggle with blustery winds. A bout of food-poisoning forced Simon Thornton to retire after five holes of his first round.

Murphy finished third in the Irish Open two years ago, the best performance of a career that goes back 15 years, but managed only one top 10 finish last season.

DES SMYTH was tied for fourth on eight-under, five behind leader Bill Longmuir, entering today's final round of the Handa Senior Masters in Melton Mowbray. Smyth had a five-under 68. Denis O'Sullivan, who shot 75, was next best of the Irish. Grouped at eight-over were Christy O'Connor Jnr (78), Eddie Polland (76) and Jimmy Heggarty (74). Liam Higgins (75) was 13-over through 36.

IRELAND'S Rebecca Coakley had a one-under par 71 for a share of 16th at the German Ladies Open, four behind leader Iben Tinning. Hazel Kavanagh and Alison Walshe both shot 72, Tara Delaney shot 74 and Martina Gillen had a 76.

Matt Jones, the 30-year-old from Sydney, fired a course-record 66 at the new Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio for a one-stroke lead after the opening round of the Texas Open yesterday.

Alone in second place was American Paul Stankowski, one shot ahead of US Ryder Cup player JB Holmes, who was tied with compatriots Matt Weibring, Steve Lowery and Charley Hoffman at four under par in windy conditions.

Jones made the turn at even-par before mounting a charge and said he felt his game was picking up after putting in some work with his coach.

World number seven Ernie Els, the top-ranked player in the field, shot an even-par 72, while Zach Johnson, the 2007 US Masters champion who was trying to win the event for a third year in a row, failed to recover from a poor start to register an eight-over-par 80.