O'Rourke's 'simple' strategy pays off
Naas' Conor O'Rourke went back to basics to fire a five-under-par 66 to snatch a two-stroke lead after the first qualifying round of the Radisson Blu-sponsored West of Ireland Amateur Open at County Sligo.
The 25-year-old made his mark last year when he won the St Andrews Links Trophy and the Nassau Invitational to earn his international call-up.
After being named in the Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup squad, he struggled for confidence earlier this year only to turn things around last week by winning the French International Foursomes alongside Irish professional Tommy O'Driscoll in Paris. He then took that form to Rosses Point and fired seven birdies in an impressive opening effort, scorching to five-under through eight holes and six-under after 12 before recovering from short misses with the putter at 14th and 17th with a tap-in birdie at the last.
"I just tried to keep things very simple," said O'Rourke, who went out in 31 on a day when just five players in the 134-strong field broke par.
"I have gone through a bit of a rough patch lately, overcomplicating things a bit, so I tried to get back to basics with my fundamentals because I got a bit loose with those things."
He birdied the first and second, picked up another shot by chipping dead at the long fifth, then reduced the downwind seventh to a sand wedge and six-foot putt.
He picked up another shot at the eighth after a superb 188-yard four-iron to 12 feet, then pitched dead at the 12th and holed the birdie putt to get to six-under par.
Three putts at the 14th and three more from just off the edge at the 17th saw him fall back to four-under before he hit a lob wedge to two feet at the 18th.
With his confidence restored, O'Rourke leads by two shots from Dundalk teenager Eoin Murphy, who had to play seven play-off holes in Wednesday's 18-hole qualifier just to get into the field.
But the strapping 17-year old took full advantage, making four birdies before finishing in style by holing a 60-yard lob wedge for an eagle two the 18th for an opening 68.
"I was delighted to play well," he said. "It's my first men's championship and to be able to compete with these boys is great."
Ardee's Evan Farrell is third after a 69 with Dún Laoghaire's Ted Collins and Ballyhaunis' Andrew Hickey tied for fourth after one-under 70s.
While Irish internationals John-Ross Galbraith and Tiarnan McLarnon shot rounds of 71 and 72 respectively, Irish Amateur Open champion Colm Campbell carded a 75, Co Sligo's Sean Flanagan a 77 and Castle's Alex Gleeson a 79 that featured a nine at the 15th.