Tuesday 24 April 2018

Kim in pole position to bunker Swede dreams


Korea's In-Kyung Kim seemed almost like an intruder on top of the leaderboard after the second round of the €500,000 AIB Irish Ladies Open watched by a very impressive attendance of 12,000 at Killeen Castle yesterday.

As it happens, she is followed by no fewer than five Swedes dominating the other positions down to tied sixth.

Just when we imagined it might be the quality of Irish golfing terrain which held a particular appeal for Scandinavians, Linda Wessberg thoroughly scuppered the notion. "We probably just like this crappy weather; it suits us," said the 30-year-old after a 66.

Whatever the reason, she will be hoping to follow the lead of distinguished Swedish visitors such as Sophie Gustafson, Mathias Gronberg, Per-Ulrik Johansson and Patrik Sjoland, who have captured seven tour events here.

From a home challenge of only eight in number, four have made the cut. Especially impressive is that three of them are Curtis Cup amateurs -- the Maguire twins and Danielle McVeigh. The fourth survivor is professional Rebecca Coakley whose 72 left her on one under par. While Lisa Maguire maintained impressive consistency, her sister Leona looked set for greater things after 11 holes in the morning. Having started at the 10th, she was two under for the round at that stage, only to card four bogeys in her final seven holes.

McVeigh also started on the 10th and she, too, came undone on the more difficult front nine. In her case it was a double-bogey at the treacherous, long seventh en route to what remains a highly creditable 73.

This is the first tournament at a venue where Jack Nicklaus exercised his creative hand to admirable effect. The ancestral castle-home of St Oliver Plunkett, which dates back more than 800 years, was bought with the surrounding lands in 1995 by Castlethorn, who also acquired the adjoining Loughmore Stud.

At 6,304 yards, Killeen is almost exactly the same length with the same par as last year's venue, Portmarnock Links where the winning aggregate was 205 -- 11-under-par. But the difference between lush parkland and a fast-running links was reflected not only in clubbing, but in the general play of individual holes.

Kim, currently 10th in the world, was tied for the lead with two to play. With a splendid short-game, she got up and down to save par from bunkers on no fewer than eight occasions and took the lead with a birdie on the treacherous 17th. Then came a fine, closing par at the 381-yard 18th where the elevated green has the castle as a magnificent back-drop.

Of the Swedes, Wessberg appears to have few peers as a wet-weather player, though conditions were largely pleasant. Notably, she beat Laura Davies in a play-off in lashing rain last September to capture the UNIQA Open in Austria and takes pride in having won two earlier events in Europe in the comfort of a wet-suit.

Sunday Independent

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