Sunday 19 January 2020

Red-hot Black writes his name into 'East' history

Black holed a three-footer to go five under for the round with five to play and take the outright lead on four under par. Picture by Pat Cashman
Black holed a three-footer to go five under for the round with five to play and take the outright lead on four under par. Picture by Pat Cashman

Brian Keogh

Seventeen-year-old Reece Black became the youngest winner in the 77-year history of the East of Ireland Amateur Open when he fired a sensational six-under-par 66 to win by three strokes at County Louth.

The Hilton Templepatrick teenager produced an imperious ball-striking display as he came from six strokes behind overnight leader Colin Woodroofe to win on five under par from Grange's Robbie Pierse, who shot a fine 69.

"Relentless," said Pierse, who raced out in 33 to head Black by one, before shooting 36 to the winner's sensational 32 on the back nine.

"It was unbelievable how well Reece played. I was just ahead of him for 12 holes, but he birdied 13 and 14 and never looked like missing. From 15 feet and in, it was scary."

Black was simply thrilled to get the biggest win of his career and, while the former Leinster U-13 boys champion is still a graphic design student at Belfast Metropolitan College, he'd love to go on and play for Ireland and make a career in golf.

"It's probably the best feeling I have ever had," said the Black after becomming the first teenager to claim the title since 19-year-old Raymie Burns successfully defended it in 1993.

"I'm so happy. I was thinking if I shot four or five under, I'd have a chance. But I ended up making more birdies and the leaders fell behind, so I kept going neck-and-neck with Robbie. Then I birdied the 11th and 13th and it started to go my way."

It wasn't just Black's ball-striking that was impressive; his putting was superb, with the only blemish on his card coming at the 16th, where he three-putted from just off the green.

Pierse birdied the third, fourth and fifth and then had a tap-in eagle at the sixth to move into the lead on four under par as the final three-ball of Woodroofe, defending champion Paul O'Hanlon and Portmarnock's Geoff Lenehan dropped 10 shots between them from the seventh to the ninth and turned in level par.

Pierse bogeyed the ninth and 10th to be level with Black on two under par with eight to play.

He then birdied the 11th from 30 feet, while Black made a six-footer for birdie there to remain on terms at three under par before moving up a gear.

As Pierse missed a five-footer for birdie at the 12th and an eight-footer at the 13th, Black holed a three-footer to go five under for the round with five to play and take the outright lead on four under par. He then spun a 58-degree wedge from 70 yards back to two feet at the 14th to go two ahead and made a clutch seven-foot par putt at the 15th to stay ahead.

Both bogeyed the 16th before the key moment came at the 17th, where Black's three-iron was stopped from flying left into deep trouble when it hit a spectator.

Pierse hit a magnificent tee shot to 10 feet, but Black putted down to seven feet above the hole from the semi-rough and, when the Grange man's putt burned the edge and stayed out, the young Ulsterman holed his slick seven-footer for par to remain two in front.

The winner then hit a huge drive down the 18th and ripped a 232-yard, three-iron to the front edge, before two-putting for his seventh birdie of the day and a three-shot win.

Overnight leader Woodroofe shot 78 to tie for third with 17-year-old Castle talent Robert Moran (70) and former South of Ireland champion Stuart Bleakley (71).

Defending champion O'Hanlon briefly held the lead when he eagled the third, but the 32-year old ended up tied 11th on three over after a 78.

Lenehan got to within two of Black with four to play but dropped four shots coming in and signed for a 74 to share sixth with Newlands' Jake Whelan (72), Rosslare's Gary Collins (71), Kinsale's John Murphy (73) and Portmarnock's Jack Pierse (72) on two over par.

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