Rampant Rafferty breaks Dunluce Links record in style
Dundalk's Caolan Rafferty set an impressive new course record on the Dunluce Links on his way to topping qualifying at the Cathedral Eye Clinic North of Ireland Championship at Royal Portrush yesterday.
The 24-year-old, who also topped qualifying at last month's British Amateur Championship, fired a bogey-free, seven-birdie round of 65 over the new Open Championship layout.
Rafferty was a semi-finalist at the North of Ireland in 2015 and recently helped Leinster claim a third consecutive inter-provincial crown. His fine run of form has earned him a place in the Ireland squad and he is now setting his sights on the Home Internationals.
His two-round total of 10-under par was good enough to edge Fortwilliam's Hugh O'Hare into second place on nine-under. The 18-year-old has played very little in recent months as he focused his attentions on A-Levels but, with the studying now complete, he is back on course.
O'Hare - a student at St Malachy's College, Belfast - will join a growing list of Irish golfers playing on the US College system when he heads to Louisville in the autumn.
Overnight leader Rowan Lester made it through to the match-play stages, which get under way this morning, with a total of 136.
The cut fell at 145 with Royal Portrush's Jamie Fletcher the only golfer to miss out on that mark. Defending champion Sean Flanagan remains in contention to retain his title, easing into the knock-out rounds on level par.
Tyrone Clarke, son of Open Championship winner Darren Clarke, also made it through to the match-play stages after firing rounds of 69/72.
Meanwhile, Ireland are chasing a top-eight place at the European Men's Team Championships today after a solid start at Diamond in Austria.
Tony Goode's side are in fourth spot after the first round of stroke-play qualifying yesterday on eight over par (368) and, crucially, seven strokes ahead of Denmark and France, who were both tied for eighth on 15 over.
With the five best cards of six counting towards the team total, the trio of Paul McBride (The Island), John Ross Galbraith (Whitehead) and Stuart Grehan (Tullamore) all signed for a level-par 72.
Cathedral Eye Clinic North of Ireland Championship At Royal Portrush (Valley scores first): 1 Caolan Rafferty (Dundalk) 68/65 - 133 (-10); 2 Hugh O'Hare (Fortwilliam) 66/68 - 134; 3 Robert Brazill (Naas) 65/71 - 136; 4 Rowan Lester (Hermitage) 64/72 - 136; 5 Ryan Berkeley (Dun Laoghaire) 69/68 - 137; 6 Eoin Leonard (Wentworth/Killiney) (67/70) - 137; 7 Finlay Mason (Moor Hall) 70/68 - 138; 8 Jakes Hapgood (Southerndown) 68/70 -138; 9 Colin Woodroofe (Dun Laoghaire) 68/70 - 138