England’s Thomas Plumb and John Axelsen from Denmark shared top spot in stroke play qualifying at The 124th Amateur Championship in Ireland.
Over the renowned links of Portmarnock and The Island near Dublin, Plumb and Axelsen finished joint-top of the 64 players and ties who progressed to the match play stage, with Plumb the leading qualifier on back nine count back.
After opening with a three-under-par 68 at The Island, 20-year-old Plumb took advantage of the pleasant morning conditions to card a one-under 71 at Portmarnock for a four-under total of 139. Plumb continued his fine recent run of form, which has included seven top-20 finishes this year and victory in the Sanlam Cape Province Open in South Africa.
Control was key
“I’m more than happy,” said Plumb. “Obviously, it’s two separate events with the stroke play and match play but to qualify as high as possible is still huge. I only made three bogeys so I couldn’t really do much wrong from there.
“Iron play with the wind was the key. Controlling the ball flight is huge around a links course. It especially makes it easier if you are coming in from the fairway a lot.
“People always say match play is completely different but at the end of the day if you are playing good golf then you just try to beat whoever is in front of you.”
In the final group of the day, Axelsen joined Plumb in heading the 288-player international field. Axelsen, 21, part of the Danish side that won the World Amateur Team Championship on Irish soil at Carton House last year, followed his 70 at The Island with an impressive 69 over Portmarnock.
“I went out there with the mindset of just making pars really,” said Axelsen. “I haven’t made the cut for this championship in a while and just having a couple of shots up to the cut was pretty neat for me to have a cushion. I couldn’t believe I was three under at one point because I hit some bad shots out there. I didn’t really feel well. I was very fortunate with some good lies and getting up and down from some pretty bad spots.
“I feel like I have to go home and completely change the mindset and just start the championship from tomorrow really. This was just the first stage and its match play tomorrow so anything can happen. I’m really looking forward to that. It’s a long time since I played match play and I really like that format.”
Links preparation for Sandy
Plumb’s fellow Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup squad member Sandy Scott finished alone in third place. The 20-year-old from Nairn in Scotland, who has just completed his penultimate year at Texas Tech University, rekindled his love for links golf after rounds of 71 and 69 for 140.
Scott said, “It’s good to finish so high in qualifying. Coming back from college in America, I had a couple of rounds at Nairn and Castle Stuart and that has proved ideal links preparation. This week has made me realise how different the game is compared to America, with the wind affecting the ball so much.
“I had a shaky start at The Island today, scrambling for pars but I gave myself chances on the back and looked to stay in my routine.”
Another Englishman, West Cornwall’s Harry Hall, and Norwegian William Buhl came a stroke further back on two under par 141.
In-form Caolan Rafferty led the Irish challenge after a superb 68 on Portmarnock to finish tied sixth on one under par. That score was matched by Scottish Amateur champion Euan McIntosh as the 50-year-old comfortably reached the knock out stage on one over par.
Positive mind frame
“There was a bit of work to do after yesterday’s 74 at The Island but I just went out in a positive frame of mind today. It was tough conditions on the way in, but it was nice this morning.
“I scrambled really well when I had to and holed a few nice putts from the chances I gave myself,” said Dundalk’s Rafferty. “I’ve had a good run of form. I’ve got into a frame of mind where I’m going out knowing I can shoot low rounds and not holding back.
“It’s nice to be the leading Irish player and we’ll see what happens in the match play now. You can go out and shoot six under and lose or shoot ten over and win on the 12th!”
The top-ranked player in the field, Australian David Micheluzzi, safely qualified on two over but there was disappointment for Portmarnock member Conor Purcell who finished on eight over to bow out.
The cut mark fell at four over par, with 76 players qualifying and a preliminary round will be held in the morning.
It is only the second time The Amateur Championship has been hosted at Portmarnock following the previous staging in 1949, while The Island has co-hosted for the first time in its history.
With the match play stage taking place at Portmarnock from tomorrow through to Saturday’s 36-hole final, there is much at stake as the winner gains exemptions into The Open at Royal Portrush next month, the 2020 US Open at Winged Foot and, by tradition, an invitation to play in the Masters Tournament.
Entry is free of charge throughout the week for all spectators at Portmarnock while live scoring, news and video can be followed on The R&A’s website and social media platforms.Leaderboard | Match Play Draw