Friday 23 March 2018

LeBlanc in mood to challenge at Baltray

Kevin LeBlanc is looking to emulate Rory McIlroy and win the Irish Close
Kevin LeBlanc is looking to emulate Rory McIlroy and win the Irish Close

Brian Keogh

The Island's Kevin LeBlanc believes he now has the game and the confidence to become the youngster championship winner since Rory McIlroy won the Irish Close nine years ago.

The 16-year old Dubliner tees it up in the first round of the CityNorth Hotel-sponsored East of Ireland Amateur Open at County Louth today brimming with confidence thanks to his early-season performances on the domestic circuit.

Having reached the last 16 of the West of Ireland Championship at Easter and then challenged for victory in last month's Irish Amateur Open at Royal Dublin, finishing tied for third behind Gavin Moynihan, the plus three-handicapper has never felt better about his game.

"I really started to doubt myself over the winter when I played a couple of senior events in Spain and Italy," LeBlanc said. "I didn't play well in Sardinia at all and I wondered if I was ready to play men's events.

"But I really played well in the West and had a great chance to win the Irish Amateur so I'm feeling very good about the game and I love Baltray."

It will be LeBlanc's third appearance in the East, where he finished tied 21st behind Warrenpoint's Colm Campbell last year having missed the cut on his debut as a 14-year old the previous year.


He's not the only teenager fancied to challenge with Mornington native Thomas Mulligan, a 16-year old former Laytown and Bettystown star now playing out of Baltray, also hoping to make an impact having finished tied 11th in the Irish Amateur Open.

Defending champion Campbell is always dangerous around Baltray, however, and opted not to have a practice round this year after a busy recent spell. West of Ireland runner-up Eanna Griffin from Waterford and Castle's Alex Gleeson, who was fourth in last week's Welsh Amateur Open Strokeplay at Ashburnham, will also be expected to challenge.

Those looking for a star of the future might like to follow 14-year-old Mark Power from Kilkenny, a son of three-time former Irish Close champions Eddie Power and Eileen Rose Power (née McDaid).

In the US, meanwhile, a magnificent opening round of 61 shot Ireland's Seamus Power to the top of the leaderboard in the Rex Hospital Open at Raleigh, North Carolina on the Tour.

West Waterford player Power led overnight by three shots on 10-under par and posted an early birdie as he begun his second round among the later starters yesterday evening.

On the main tour, Australia's Steven Bowditch led overnight at the AT & T Byron Nelson championship in Texas, carding a first-round 62 at an event that has been curtailed by heavy rainfall in the area.

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