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O'Keeffe eying back-to-back titles but Campbell pulls out



Home comforts: Tiarnan McLarnon has high hopes

Home comforts: Tiarnan McLarnon has high hopes

Fran Caffrey

Home comforts: Tiarnan McLarnon has high hopes

Cork's Peter O'Keeffe will set off in pursuit of back-to-back Flogas Irish Amateur Open titles at Royal County Down today.

The Douglas golfer had three shots to spare last year, winning his first major Irish amateur championship at the age of 35 having spent five years on the professional circuit before reverting to the amateur game.

To retain his title, Peter will have to contend with a world-class entry featuring 90 overseas players from 11 countries.

This year's starting list has been increased by six places to 138 players due to the quantity and quality of entries received.

Unfortunately, Warrenpoint's Colm Campbell, champion in 2016, was forced to withdraw yesterday due to a long-standing wrist issue.

However, there will be a strong home challenge featuring the likes of Alex Gleeson from Castle who secured a top 10 finish last year and Caolan Rafferty (Dundalk) who, along with Rowan Lester (Hermitage) was recently included in the 20-player Great Britain and Ireland St Andrews Trophy squad.

Massereene GC's Tiarnan McLarnon is also in the field along with reigning Irish Close champion Jamie Fletcher (Warrenpoint).

"The rough isn't very long but it's thick in places. The course is in great condition and the greens and fairways are playing really firm so it will be a test this week," said McLarnon, a winner of the Irish Close in 2015.

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

• Ireland have taken a significant step towards retaining the International King's Cup after the opening day of competition at Lough Erne Resort.

The 'home' team won five of today's six four-ball matches to leave Team USA with a mountain to climb.

Supported by Tourism NI, the International King's Cup is a Ryder Cup style tournament which honours golf's greatest ambassador, Arnold Palmer.

This year, 12-man teams (six pairs) of club golfers from Ireland and the USA are competing at the Sir Nick Faldo designed course in Co Fermanagh.

Ireland's opening pair of Ryan Gribben and David Barron set the tone early with a solid 24-12 victory over Frank Gambaro and Gene Hart in the opening match.

"It was tight at the opening stages but we won nine to go ahead and we stayed in control after that," said Barron.

Further victories followed for Ireland's Martin Smyth and Liam Byrne, Declan McKeever and Darren McKeever and Sean O'Gallachoir and Colin O'Leary.

Limerick duo Michael Ryan and Pat Creamer were forced to battle all the way by their opponents Mike Broksch and Ron Schroeder eventually coming out on top 19-17.

Under King's Cup rules, players receive two points for a hole won, one each for a hole halved and nothing for a lost hole.

With 864 points on offer over three days of the competition, the first side to reach 433 points will collect the title. Ireland have 127 points with the US on 89.

Belfast Telegraph