​McClean off to flying start with 66 at Baltray

Malone's Matthew McClean is hoping that his decision to play full-time golf this year will pay off with a maiden championship win and he's made a good start after opening with a six-under 66 in the East of Ireland Amateur Open at County Louth.

  • 01 June 2019
​The 25-year-old Ulster interprovincial, who was a beaten semi-finalist in last year's North of Ireland Championship at Royal Portrush, made seven birdies and a bogey in a southerly breeze in Baltray.

He leads by one stroke from 43-year old Gary Cullen from Portmarnock Links and Tandragee's William Small on a day when 46 players broke par in The d Hotel sponsored event.

"The weather was as good as it will ever be around there," said McClean, who also opened with a 66 last year and finished tied 15th behind South Africa’s Christo Lambrecht, who was unable to defend.

"The course was playing lovely, the rough was down and it was pretty receptive as well, so if you hit good shots, you had chances. But you still had to play very well to get it around in 66 and I was happy enough to do that."

After holing from off the green for birdie at the first, McClean made a tidy birdie four at the second, then missed a handful of chances before rolling in a brace of 12 footers for birdies at the eighth and ninth to turn in 33.

He got up and down from 80 yards at the 332-yard 14th to move to five under and while he was disappointed to plug a ball in a bunker and bogey the 15th, he rolled in a 30 footer for a two at the 17th and then two-putted the 18th from 20 feet for his seventh birdie of the day.

"I also had a decent start in the East last year, and it's a golf course I feel comfortable on and know well," added McClean, who turns 26 next Friday and makes no secret of the fact that he'd like to add a few senior wins to his CV.

"I decided to try playing full-time golf this year after spending the last three years working in Coventry. I just wanted to take a year out to play golf and see what standard I can get to. 

"The professional game is still a long way off and I will have to shoot a lot more 66's to compete at that level. But I had a nice finish to win the Rosapenna Scratch Cup on nine-under at the start of the year so hopefully that's a sign that a few more good results are on the way."

Playing consistently well this year, 1999 Irish Amateur Open winner and former tour player Cullen made five birdies in a bogey-free 67 to share second with Small, who started birdie-birdie eagle before mixing five birdies with four bogeys after that.

Portmarnock Links' Eugene Smith finished the day in a five-way tie for fourth with Rosslare's Paul Murphy, Oughterard's Devin Morley and visitors Oliver Brown from Wales and Yuran Premlall of South Africa after four-under 68s's.

Former winners Colm Campbell and Paul O'Hanlon and reigning Munster Strokeplay champion, Joe Lyons were sitting in the nine-man group on three-under with Massereene's Tiarnan McLarnon a shot further back after a 70.

Of the rest of the Irish senior panel in action, Douglas' Peter O'Keeffe and Naas' Robert Brazill carded one-under 71's but Galway's Ronan Mullarney took seven at the 18th and signed for a 73 that leaves him with work to do to make the top 42 and ties who will play the last two rounds on Monday.

He goes into Sunday’s second round tied for 74th with Palmerstown House Estate's Quentin Carew, who had four birdies, one bogey, three double bogeys, and a hole-in-one at the 17th (his eighth) in an adventurous 73.​

Matthew McClean (Malone) on the 2nd tee during Round 1 of The East of Ireland Amateur Open Championship in Co. Louth Golf Club, Baltray today.
Courtesy: Thos Caffrey / www.golffile.ie