Flanagan hails his putting masterclass after being crowned North of Ireland king
Maynooth University student Sean Flanagan (Co Sligo) put on a putting masterclass to beat Tiarnan McLarnon (Massereene) 3&1 in the final of the Cathedral Eye Clinic North of Ireland Championship at Royal Portrush yesterday.
Two up with seven to play, the 20-year-old came under pressure from reigning Irish Close champion McLarnon, but kept him at bay by holing vital putts at the 14th, 15th and 16th holes to earn his first major amateur title.
"If I play well I'd like to think I'm confident with the putter and that is definitely the reason I won this week - it saved me," said Flanagan.
"When I saw it was wet and breezy it didn't faze me. It played into my hands a bit.
"It reminded me of playing in the West of Ireland Championship. I knew I didn't have to play flashy golf and par golf would be good enough.
"It's a massive victory and a huge stepping stone for me. Hopefully I will be in the mix for the Home International team."
McLarnon grabbed an early lead, winning the second with a birdie after Flanagan found a bunker off the tee, but the Co Sligo man rolled in a 20 footer on the third for birdie to level matters.
Both golfers missed the green at the sixth but while McLarnon failed to get up and down, Flanagan holed from 15 feet for a winning par.
McLarnon squared things up at the seventh after Flanagan lost a ball off the tee but he fell behind again on the eighth, losing the hole to par.
Another missed par putt from McLarnon on the ninth saw Flanagan take a two-hole lead at the turn before a McLarnon concession extended it to three holes at the 10th.
The Irish Close champion fought back by winning the 11th but a big comeback never really materialised. Flanagan holed crucial putts at the 14th, 15th and 16th to stay out of reach.
When McLarnon's tee-shot at the 17th plugged in the face of the famous 'Big Nellie' bunker, it signalled the end.
Forced to come out sideways, he finally reached the green in four and when his par putt from 18 feet missed, he conceded the match.
McLarnon said: "I just didn't get the putts, he putted better than me.
"He holed three 12 footers in a row. I could easily have been one up with a couple to play.
"It was a tough day but I will come back again."
In the morning semi-finals, Flanagan beat fellow Maynooth University student Jordan Hood (Galgorm Castle) 4&3 while McLarnon saw off Dermot McElroy (Ballymena) 3&2.
Flanagan had extra reason to celebrate as he became the first Co Sligo player to succeed at a Championship since the great Cecil Ewing.