REBECCA COAKLEY got an exciting year for the Irish women's game off to a thrilling start with a splendid bogey-free first-round 68 in the Handa Australian Open at the Commonwealth GC in Melbourne, writes William S Callahan.
Ireland hosts the biennial Solheim Cup match between Europe and the USA at Killeen Castle in September and the home nation's hopes of getting a player on to the European team rest largely on Coakley's shoulders.
Currently tied 18th with Sweden's Carin Koch in the Solheim Cup standings, it will require a pretty spectacular effort by the Carlow woman to claim one of the automatic spots on offer to the top five in the qualifying points list.
Yet newlywed Coakley, who married Irish PGA professional and Ladies European Tour caddie Shane Codd last month, will surely catch the eye of home captain Alison Nicholas if she continues to perform as brightly as she did yesterday in a world-class field.
Her confidence boosted by a new set of custom-made Archer irons, Coakley soared into solo third place on the back of five birdies, a faultless round leaving her just one stroke off the lead shared by world No 1 Jiyai Shin of Korea and America's Jennifer Song.
Australia-born Coakley is the only Irish player in the field in Melbourne. However, Galway native Alison Walshe, who plays under the flag of her adopted homeland, the US, was tied 57th after opening with a one-over 74.
'Banned' Saltman loses out to brother in Spain
Scotland's Elliot Saltman has finished joint fourth in a mini-tour event in Spain, just two weeks after receiving a three-month European Tour ban.
The Hi5 Pro Tour had no objections to Saltman paying the £338 entry fee into the 54-hole Hacienda de Alamo Open, and he shot a seven-under-par total to finish 14 strokes behind runaway winner - his brother Lloyd.
Saltman received his ban for what was deemed a "serious breach" of the rules during a Challenge Tour event in Russia last year. He was accused by both of his playing partners of not replacing his ball-marker correctly on a number of occasions.
He was given 28 days to lodge an appeal against the decision of the Tour's tournament committee.
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