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Staunton goes to top of the class at Q-School

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Irish golfer Mark Staunton at the announcement of the 2008 Team Ireland Golf Trust Grants. Conrad Hotel, Earlsfort Terrace, Dublin.

Irish golfer Mark Staunton at the announcement of the 2008 Team Ireland Golf Trust Grants. Conrad Hotel, Earlsfort Terrace, Dublin.

Irish golfer Mark Staunton at the announcement of the 2008 Team Ireland Golf Trust Grants. Conrad Hotel, Earlsfort Terrace, Dublin.

Irishman Mark Staunton swept to the top of the leaderboard in the opening round of the European Qualifying School first stage at Scotland's Roxburghe Hotel yesterday.

The 30-year-old Ballinasloe-based professional fired a stunning five-under-par 67 to grab a three-stroke advantage over Scottish duo Greg Nicholson and Craig Matheson.

Following three straight pars at the opening of his round, Staunton, who lies 10th in the Irish PGA Order of Merit, suffered a double-bogey five at the short fourth but quickly recovered with birdies at the fifth and ninth.

An eagle three at the long 11th put him in an excellent frame of mind for the climax and he picked up strokes on the 14th, 16th and 17th to open up a cushion at the summit.

Belfast's Damian Mooney is well in the mix after a highly creditable level-par 72. Mooney, a 44-year-old attached to the Ballyliffin club in Donegal, was steady throughout and three more similar rounds will undoubtedly see him into the next stage.

A stroke behind is 31-year-old Peter O'Keefe from Douglas, while Waterville's New Orleans-based Mark Murphy, winner of the Golfing Channel's 'Big Break Ireland' reality TV contest, is still in with a chance of making progress after a 74 yesterday.

Murphy, who spent 10 years as caddie for US Tour player Rocco Mediate, was disappointed to finish with a bogey-five but remains in the hunt.

Irish Independent