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Staunton and O'Keefe make grade in Q-School test

It was a remarkable one-two for Ireland in the European Tour qualifying school's first stage in Scotland yesterday, with Mark Staunton and Peter O'Keefe taking the top two spots.

Staunton (30) led from the start on Tuesday and finished with a solid one-under-par 71 yesterday for a 72-hole aggregate of 276 and a yawning eight-stroke cushion over Muskerry-based O'Keefe at Roxburghe Hotel.

The Ballinsloe man could afford two bogeys in the last three holes and still demolish his rivals.

O'Keefe was steady yesterday, compiling halves of 36 and 37 for a 73 and a 284 aggregate, which gave him second place by a stroke from England's George Thacker.

Waterville's New Orleans-based Mark Murphy scraped through to the next stage on the cut-off mark after closing with a level-par 72 for 291.

Knowing it would be tight, Murphy kept his nerve to par the last six holes and finished joint eighth -- a stroke more and he would have been out.

Belfast's Damian Mooney did fall by the wayside after he slipped to a 74 for a 294 total. Staunton, O'Keefe and Murphy now go forward to the second stage next month.

Meanwhile, Helen Jones fell away disappointingly in the third and final round of the Irish Senior Women's Open Championship at Royal Belfast yesterday as Finland's Minna Kaarnalahti comfortably retained her title.

Jones, the Irish Close Champion who belongs to the Strabane and Royal Portrush clubs, slumped to an 85 for a 54-hole aggregate of 247 and had to be content with fourth place.

Kaarnalahti closed with a steady 76 for a 238 total and cantered to a five-stroke victory over the experienced international Sheena McElroy from Grange, who in turn was three clear of home-club favourite Marilyn Henderson.

First-round leader Gertie McMullen finished behind Jones in fifth and then came nine-times Curtis Cup player Mary McKenna.

Irish Independent