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Campbell out to retain Irish Amateur title at Royal County Down

 

By Paul Kelly

Colm Campbell of Warrenpoint is battling the weight of history this week as he attempts to defend his Flogas Irish Amateur Open Championship title at Royal County Down.

The last player to win back-to-back titles was former Irish international Keith Nolan in 1996 and 1997 and Campbell accepts that he is facing a tough task.

"It's always going to be very difficult going back as defending champion," said the 29-year-old, who carded a final round 70 to beat Jack Hume by one shot at The Royal Dublin last year.

"I'm just going to have to put that to the back of my mind as much as possible and try and do as best I can. If I play well, hopefully I'll be knocking on the door again come the final round."

On the plus side, his chances should be helped by his familiarity with the famous Co.Down links.

"With it being so close to home, it's nearly as if I'm playing it in my back garden," he added.

"Preparation was a lot easier coming up to the start of the event. I'm going to try and use that to my advantage."

Campbell begins his title defence at 8.25am this morning alongside Scotland's Connor Syme, who was tied seventh last year, and American Stewart Hagestad, winner of the low amateur prize at the 2017 Masters.

Corhampton's Scott Gregory, winner of last year's Amateur Championship, is the highest-ranked player in the field. The World No.6 is among 31 players travelling from England.

With 15 different countries represented, this year's Irish Amateur Championship has attracted players from as far afield as South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

Campbell leads the home challenge, which includes fellow Walker Cup panellists Robin Dawson (Tramore), Alex Gleeson (Castle) and Conor O'Rourke (Naas). Of the 21 players named in the GB&I panel, nine will be playing at Royal County Down, which last held the tournament in 1959 when Shandon Park's John Durcan tasted victory.

Current Irish internationals Colin Fairweather (Knock), John Ross Galbraith (Whitehead) and Tiarnan McLarnon (Massereene) are also in action.

McLarnon believes strategy will be key around a course that has been baked hard over the last fortnight.

"The course is set up well. It's tricky as always and it's very firm and bouncy. You will really have to try and plot your way around it," said the 2015 Irish Close champion. "Pars will be good on a lot of holes, you are going to have to stick to the plan."

Fairweather has been getting reacquainted with a course he last played as a junior.

"It's playing so hard that aiming for the front of the green is the safest option," he said. "Thankfully, the rough doesn't seem to be too tough, although there's a few spots to avoid.

"Getting the right lines off the tees will be very important."

Play commences at 7am today with the top 50 and ties progressing to the final round on Sunday following a 54-hole cut.

Belfast Telegraph

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