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Ulster trio poised to hunt down early leader Lenehan

By Peter Hutcheon

Portmarnock's Geoff Lenehan's four under par round of 66 at the Valley Course at Royal Portrush was the best effort of the opening day of the North of Ireland Championship yesterday.

The Ulster challenge is strong with trio Noel Crawford from Mourne, Ballyclare's Simon McConnell and Holywood's Rory Williamson all coming in with three under rounds of 67, also on the Valley Course yesterday.

It was not a day for low scoring and the players found the going particularly tough around the Dunluce links.

Only two players - Foyle's Paul McGuigan and David McMahon from Tralee - managed to break par there as they both came in with one under rounds of 71 yesterday.

That leaves them both in good shape to make tomorrow's matchplay stages, just three shots off the lead at the halfway mark in qualifying.

Owen Crooks, from the nearby Bushfoot course, is a further shot back as is Belvoir Park's Barry Cashman, Warrenpoint's Colm Campbell, Marc McKinstry from Cairndhu and Ross Dutton from Tandragee all on two under par, but all have the more difficult Dunluce layout to negotiate today.

There is a 13-strong group at one under including Belvoir Park's Gareth Lappin, Balmoral's Matthew McClean and Dale Jackson of Massereene.

And also well inside the top 64 mark at level par overall are Cairndhu's Ryan McKinstry, Warrenpoint's Ryan Gribben, Galgorm Castle's Jamie Sutherland, Dunmurry's Ian Moore, Knock's Colin Fairweather and Whitehead's John Ross Galbraith.

Donaghadee's Andrew Clegg and Banbridge man Connor Wilton are in good shape after opening level par efforts of 72 on the Dunluce course.

But Wilton's clubmate Conor Doran will need to keep a close eye on the leaderboard tomorrow when he goes out just outside the top 50 after an opening one over par round out on the Valley course.

Royal Portrush's Patrick McCrudden is still in the hunt after an opening round of 72 on the Valley course.

Moyola Park's Damian McCusker is in a similar position while Rathmore's Gary McDowell - brother of Major winner Graeme - is unlikely to make the grade after an opening round of 76.

Two unfortunate men managed to return scores of plus 20 on the Dunluce course with eye-watering rounds of 92 - visiting American Bert Lamar and Steven Hughes of the Killymoon club.

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