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Bullish Browne insists he can wipe out nine-shot East deficit

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Paul Dunne

Paul Dunne

Paul Dunne

The thick rough took its toll but, as defending champion Paul Dunne and Warrenpoint's Colm Campbell topped the leaderboard on four-under-par, former European Tour player Stephen Browne is still dreaming of a magical comeback victory in the East of Ireland Championship at Baltray.

Now 40, the two-time Challenge Tour winner finds himself nine shots off the pace at County Louth after rounds of 75 and 74 in what he promises will be his last hurrah at championship level.

It looks like an impossible task but having got to two-under early in his first round and raced to four-under after seven holes yesterday, the Hermitage player is not giving up on what would be a sensational victory.

"It's been done before, many a time," said Browne, who now sells financial planning software.

Smiling he added: "But I think I made the right decision (to quit the Tour) six years ago.

"I had a putt on eight to go five-under from six feet, missed that and bogeyed nine, 10, 11, 12 and doubled 14.

"The golf course is absolutely fantastic but it's right on the edge so if you are slightly out anywhere – the greens are firm, the rough is up and it's windy – you are in trouble.

"It's US Open style but in terms of my golf, it is a really good test. But I got it going today and I got it going the first day as well so I still think I have a chance."

On his last appearance in the East in 2001, Browne came from the cut line to finish fourth, shooting nine-under-par on the final day to set up a magical summer that convinced him he had the game to turn professional.

It may be a bridge too far this time but with top 25 on the leaderboard covered by just eight shots, the championship is certainly wide open.

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Phone shop manager Campbell, a 27-year-old former Ulster inter-provincial, fired a 68 to grab a share of the lead with defending champion Dunne, who struggled to a 72 in the afternoon winds.

Campbell was six-under after 13 but struggled over the closing holes. But he believes Baltray owes him one after he came to the 18th needing an eagle to win two years ago but three-putted for par to miss out on a play-off by one.

Greystones star Dunne (21) confessed that he's struggling to adapt to Irish conditions after only returning from the University of Alabama Birmingham on Thursday.

"The course is easy from the fairway but tough from the rough," he said after making four birdies and four bogeys. "I am just learning to flight my ball down again as opposed to hitting high, soft shots at the flag in flat calm at the flag.

"Working the ball against the wind is something I have to get used to again but hopefully today will stand me in good stead for tomorrow."

Campbell and Dunne lead by a shot from Cork's Gary O'Flaherty (71) with West Waterford's Gary Hurley (70) and Naas' Conor O'Rourke (68) four behind on level par as the cut for the top 51 fell at seven-over 151.


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