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AIG Irish Close: Preview

​​​Kinsale's Butler takes clubhouse lead with opening 68

  • 31 July 2019

PHOTO: Cathal Butler who opened with a three-under par round of 68 at the AIG Irish Close in Ballybunion. Photo by Cashman Photography.

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Kinsale's Cathal Butler has set the early clubhouse target at the AIG Irish Close with an opening round of 68.

At three under, Butler leads by two strokes from clubmate Gard Ward and Jack Doherty (Carton House). The 22 year old flourished on a typically demanding day at Ballybunion. A run of four birdies in five holes had Butler through the turn in red figures. He made further ground on the back nine with birdies at 13 and 16 before closing with a bogey.

Buffeted by strong winds throughout the morning, only three players from the early wave managed to break the par of 71 on the Old Course. Jack Doherty of Carton House was first in with 70, which was matched by Gary Ward of Kinsale, before Butler surpassed them.

Clontarf's Eoin O'Brien had been four under after six holes but made two double bogeys on the back nine to finish level par. A lost ball at the 16th took the sheen off his round.

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As the leading order of merit player in the field, Robert Brazill from Naas knows a win at the AIG Irish Close would also clinch the Bridgestone Order of Merit.

Brazill, 22, is second on the Bridgestone table with two rounds remaining and will gain an unassailable lead should he claim another championship crown in Ballybunion. For all his consistency -- Brazill was fifth at the West, fourth at the East and a beaten semi-finalist at the North -- the season would feel incomplete without a title to his name.

"At this point, I'd love to go on and win the Order of Merit," Brazill declared ahead of this year's AIG Irish Close. "It would be nice to get my name on that and get my place for the Home Internationals. I haven't had a win since the West of Ireland and I am itching for a win."

Victory at the West in 2018 was Brazill's maiden success and his stock continues to rise.

"I have played a lot of good golf," he reflected. "I've been fifth, fourth and third in three of the provincials. It is hard to get that win. I would feel like I missed out on something if I didn't get a win this season."

Portmarnock ace Conor Purcell currently tops the Bridgestone table. The 21 year old Dubliner holds a 22-point advantage at the top after eight events. Brazill, chasing his first Irish cap by finishing inside the top three, is five points clear of Keith Egan (Carton House). Egan moved ahead of Colm Campbell (Warrenpoint) on the table following his run to the final at the South of Ireland.


Although losing out to Sean Desmond of Monkstown by one hole at the South last Sunday (28 July), Egan's runner-up finish may yet prove decisive when it comes to securing selection for the Home Internationals. The 26 year old Kildare native gains an automatic pick if he remains inside the top three. His impressive displays at Lahinch, host venue for those international matches from 11 to 13 September, were timely.

Brazill bowed out in the first round at the South but consistency has been the trend for the Naas star this season. He has four top-10s in domestic events and could well top the Bridgestone table after the AIG Irish Close at Ballybunion, which begins on Saturday (3 August). The big hitting 22 year old, provided he progresses to the match play stage, benefits from the absence of Purcell and Egan at the Close.

Outside the top three, permutations abound. Warrenpoint's Colm Campbell, returning to form after an injury ravaged season in 2018, overtakes Egan with a first round victory.

Balbriggan's Robbie Cannon is defending champion in Ballybunion, having won this crown at The European Club twelve months ago. Massereene's Tiarnán McLarnon, Close champion in 2015 at Tramore, is another former winner in the field. McLarnon lies 10th on the Bridgestone table. 

Current international Ronan Mullarney from Galway is fifth on the table with a fine track record in match play. He reached the quarter-finals of The Amateur Championship at Portmarnock in June.

Kinsale's John Murphy, winner of the St Andrews Links Trophy in 2018, is alongside Power and Mullarney for the qualifying rounds. After 36 holes of stroke play, the top 64 progress to the match play stage, which commences on Monday 5 August.​

The AIG Irish Amateur Close is the ninth of 10 events in the Bridgestone Order of Merit. The series concludes at the Mullingar Scratch Trophy from 10 to 11 August. The top three players at the end of the season earn automatic selection on the Ireland team for the Home Internationals, which will be staged at Lahinch from 11 to 13 September. 

BRIDGESTONE ORDER OF MERIT – TOP TEN (AFTER SOUTH OF IRELAND)

1 Conor Purcell (Portmarnock) 472

2 Robert Brazill (Naas) 455

3 Keith Egan (Carton House) 450

4 Colm Campbell (Warrenpoint) 399

5 Ronan Mullarney (Galway) 375

6 Matthew McClean (Malone) 335

7 Eanna Griffin (Waterford) 318

8 Marc Boucher (Carton House) 312

9 Peter O'Keeffe (Douglas) 308

10 Tiarnan McLarnon (Massereene) 305