Irish PGA Championship at Dundalk a big success

Irish PGA ChampionThe hosting of the Irish PGA Championship at Dundalk Golf Club proved to be a big success with the professionals full of praise for the course and their hosts.

Defending champion Niall Kearney (Royal Dublin) cruised to a record-breaking 14-shot win after finishing on 22-under-par with the trio of Richard Kilpatrick (Banbridge), Eamonn Brady (Clontarf) and James Quinlivan (Mullingar) sharing second place on eight under par with Brendan McGovern (Headfort) alone in fifth on seven under par.

Afterwards, Kearney led the praise for the Dundalk course which has firmly re-established itself as one of Ireland’s top parkland championship courses after successfully hosting the Irish Professional Golf Championship for the first time since 1969 and only the third time in its 110 year history.

“It was a course that suited my eye. I felt comfortable here right from the start of the week and that was reflected in the scoring. The course this week reminded me a lot of many of the Challenge Tour venues we play. It was great all week, superb facilities, a huge thanks to the all the greens staff and the volunteers who helped during the week,” said Kearney while Kilpatrick was also fulsome in his praise of the challenges the Dundalk course presented.

“This is the type of course that you need to be finding the fairway off the tee and unfortunately I wasn’t doing that today. It was great to get the opportunity to play in the event. I thoroughly enjoyed the week, the tournament, the course, everything was excellent,” said Kilpatrick after his final round.

The tournament began in earnest on Wednesday with the Pro-Am with Brady and Mark Staunton sharing the professional’s prize after shooting five under par 67s while Brady’s team won the Pro-Am.

The 72-hole championship commenced on Thursday morning in perfect scoring conditions with the course in fantastic shape and the slick greens running at over 11.5 on the stimpmeter. Keanrey and Brady both shot seven under pars 65s with James Quinlivan (Mullingar GC) one shot back and Moriarty two shots off the pace.

Kearney then took a firm grip of the championship on day two when he carded a second round 66 that gave him an eight-shot lead over his nearest rivals. Kilpatrick and Moriarty emerged as his nearest challengers with David Ryan (Cahir Park) and David Higgins (Waterville) a shot further back on four under par after 36 holes.

Heavy fog led to a three hour delay on Friday morning and by the close of play, over 50 competitors had still to complete round two. They returned early on Saturday morning to wrap things up with the cut eventually falling at six over par with 52 players making it through to the final 36 holes.

Saturday’s third round got underway at noon and produced some low scoring with Brendan McGovern bagging a best of the day 66 that moved him up the leaderboard. Kilpatrick grabbed second place on 10 under par with Moriarty a shot further back on nine under par. Kearney however, refused to give any hope to his chasers, signing for a third round 67 that featured six birdies and one bogey.

A blustery wind made for the trickiest conditions of the week on day four and. as a consequence, the rest of the field found it difficult to mount any meaningful challenge.

Kearney started the final day with an eight-shot lead over nearest rival Kilpatrick with Colm Moriarty (Drive Golf Performance) a shot further back on nine-under. He dropped only his third shot of the tournament at the par four third but far from it causing a wobble, he bounced back with a birdie at the next and a second birdie of the day at the sixth saw him reach the turn in one under par.

In contrast, Kilpatrick and Moriarty both struggled over the opening nine holes and as they turned for home, Keanrey had extended his lead to 11 shots, effectively putting the tournament to bed. He made smooth progress on the back nine, grabbing birdies at the 12th, 14th and 18th as he came home in three under 33 for a final round 68.

Kilpatrick steadied the ship somewhat on the back nine, coming home in level par 36 to sign for a closing 74, while Moriarty played his final nine holes in one under par 35 to wrap up his tournament with a four over par 76 finishing in share of sixth place alongside Simon Thornton (Royal County Down).

“I was hoping to come here, and get a confidence boost to take with me into the rest of the season,” said Kearney. “I’m looking forward to a busy stretch of golf now and meeting new challenges next week on the European Tour in Woburn at the British Masters and then over on the Asian Tour.”

Victory saw the 27-year-old join an illustrious list of back-to-back champions that includes Padraig Harrington, Paul McGinley and Christy O’Connor Snr.

“I see Christy Snr around Royal Dublin the odd time and it’s good to have matched something he has done but I’ve some way to go to equal his record of 10 Irish PGA titles,” said Kearney.

Hopes that one of the local professionals participating in the championship would mount a strong challenge over the week failed to materialise with Greenore’s Robert Giles the best of the bunch in finishing tied for 23rd place. He was well placed after three rounds for a top ten finish but a five-over par 77 in the difficult final round conditions put paid to that.

His Greenore colleague Ian Brennan finished on 12 over while Leslie Walker (Dundalk) and Brian Kerley (Green Life Golf Centre) failed to make the cut.