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Lester is quickly into the swing of things in battle for Portrush joy

 

By Paul Kelly

Irish international Rowan Lester (Hermitage) leads the way after the opening round of qualifying at the Cathedral Eye Clinic North of Ireland Amateur Open Championship at Royal Portrush.

A quarter-finalist in 2015, Lester, playing The Valley Links, carded a bogey-free seven-under-par 64. He leads Jordan Hood (Galgorm Castle), Robert Brazill (Naas) and Ronan Mullarney (Galway) by a shot heading into today's second round at the Dunluce Links.

"I struggled a bit at the start but adjusted on the eighth tee and from that point on I was really good," said 22-year-old Hood who will play The Dunluce today. "I was seeing the lines better on the greens and rolled in a few putts.

"The two new holes (on the Dunluce) are really good. The par five (seventh) isn't as daunting as I first thought when I saw it and the eighth is a really good par four. It forces you to be aggressive."

Kirkistown GC vice-captain Neill Simpson turned in the leading score on the new Dunluce layout, a three-under-par 69.

Simpson quit golf for almost 20 years but has returned to competitive action after rebuilding his swing under PGA professional Charles Bell at Blackwood GC.

His tactic of leaving the driver in the bag paid dividends as he was one of only two players -the other being Galway's Colm Hughes (-1) - to finish the day under par on the new Open Championship layout.

Defending champion Sean Flanagan (Co Sligo) is well placed to make the cut after a two-under-par 70 at The Valley.

The leading 64 players and ties after today's second round of qualifying will progress to the match-play stages.

Cathedral Eye Clinic North of Ireland Amateur Championship At Royal Portrush

Leading scores after 18 holes (Valley/Dunluce): 1 Rowan Lester (Hermitage) 64 -7; 2 Jordan Hood (Galgorm Castle) 65 -6; 3 Robert Brazill (Naas) 65; 4 Ronan Mullarney (Galway) 65; 5 Gregory Royston (Cotswold Downs) 66 -5; 6 Hugh O'Hare (Fortwilliam) 66; 7 Cathal Butler (Kinsale) 66; 8 Paul Murphy (Rosslare) 66; 9 Gavin Fitzmaurice (Balcarrick) 66; 10 Colin Fairweather (Knock) 66.

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