FLEDGLING pro Dara Lernihan was pipped on countback by fellow Dub Neil O Briain, but still walked away from Portmarnock Links with a broad smile on his face and a few extra bob in his pocket.
Irish Close champion Lernihan (23) who turned pro just two months ago, wagered €5 with a pal at odds of 5/1 that he'd outscore host Padraig Harrington in yesterday's Waterford Crystal Links Pro-Am.
And he duly delivered, a sweet 69 leaving Lernihan one stroke ahead of Ireland's triple-Major Champion in the race for Harrington's own Links Vice-President's prize.
However, first place went to O Briain (24), who also shot 69, but took top prize after playing the back nine at Portmarnock Links in 33 strokes (two-under), one better than the man from Castle GC.
Lernihan happily settled for 'Best Gross', delighted to walk away with a feather in his cap as he finished one ahead of Des Smyth, Joe Lyons of Galway and, of course, Harrington.
"I had a fiver with a friend at 5/1 that I'd beat Padraig's score, so that's a nice start to the year," he beamed.
While Royal Dublin product O Briain will continue to seek his fortune on the EuroPro Tour in 2011, Lernihan has won his card on the Alps Tour. He'll play four events on the Hi-5 mini-circuit in Spain next month before making his Alpine bow in March.
Harrington returns to European Tour action at next week's Abu Dhabi Championship. His schedule, though still provisional, is expected to take him to Bahrain for the inaugural Volvo Golf Champions, followed by the AT&T National at Pebble Beach, Northern Trust at Riviera, the Accenture Match Play, Doral, Transitions, Houston and the US Masters.
Yesterday was Harrington's second round of golf since Christmas. Though he played nicely, the Dubliner's putter was cold and he missed a procession of chances.
"It was a good day for the putts to stay out," he quipped, clearly with one eye on the challenges which lie ahead on the European and US Tour.
He really indulged himself on the practice range during his five-week mid-winter break. "I'd a serious, hard-working winter," Harrington explained. "I did a lot of work in the gym and hit more balls than previous winters ... only because I enjoy doing it."
Colm Moriarty was Ireland's hottest performer in yesterday's first round of the Joburg Open, compiling an impressive four-under-par 67 on the East Course, recognised as the tougher of the two tracks at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club this week.
Though Glasson man Moriarty (31) was tied 27th on the tournament leaderboard, only five other players shot better scores on the East Course. They included Martin Maritz, who picked up nine birdies on his way to the sensational 62 which left him in a tie for the lead with fellow South African Tyrone Mordt on nine-under.
Gareth Maybin posted a steady 69 on the East Course for a share of 56th on two-under, while Darren Clarke staged a morale-boosting fightback with a hat-trick of birdies on the final three holes of his first-round 70.
Struggling to make any headway on the greens on the East Course, Clarke was wallowing on two-over-par when the complexion of his opening day was changed utterly by a deft chip-in for birdie from the fringe at the par four 16th.
Then he rolled hole an eight-foot putt for another birdie at 17 and fired a superlative shot out of a fairway bunker to inside three feet as he picked up another shot at the closing hole.
Niall Kearney, like Moriarty a former Walker Cup star, did well to keep his composure after a triple-bogey seven at 18, his ninth hole, in the first round of the Gujarat Kensville Challenge, the first European Challenge Tour event to be played in India.
Royal Dublin 'graduate' Kearney went on to play the front nine at Kensville in one-under, eventually signing for a 73 which left him tied for 23rd on one-over, six behind Siddikur Rahman of Bangladesh who shot 67.
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