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International trio set pace at Amateur

Morocco’s Ayoub Ssouadi demonstrated the global nature of The 124th Amateur Championship by sharing the early lead after the opening day of stroke play qualifying in Ireland.

 

The 23-year-old from Tangier is making a rare trip to Europe and the 806-ranked player in the World Amateur Golf Rankingposted an impressive four-under-par 67 over The Island, near Dublin.

Late in the day, his effort was matched at The Island by Harry Hall as the English player continued his recent form, including a runner-up finish in the Brabazon Trophy. Germany’s Anton Albers also reached four under after a birdie at the last at Portmarnock for his 68. Another Englishman, Thomas Plumb, sits a shot behind on three under.

There are competitors from 37 countries in the 288-player field – firstly competing over two rounds of stroke play qualifying at Portmarnock and The Island – and Ssouadi’s round featured six birdies as he took an immediate liking to links golf.

Outstanding links

“I’m very proud to be here representing Morocco and enjoying this challenge,” said Ssouadi, who tied seventh among professionals in a Pro Golf Tour event in March in his homeland. “It’s special to be here and very different for me.

“There are courses beside the water in Morocco but this is the real thing here in Ireland, playing some of the best links courses in the world. I’m enjoying being here as well as the challenge itself. I wasn’t hitting many fairways yesterday but on the range this morning I got into a better rhythm.”                                          

It is only the second time The Amateur Championship has been hosted at Portmarnock following the previous staging in 1949. The Island is co-hosting for the first time in its history.

In breezy conditions throughout the day, England’s James Robinson also enjoyed a strong opening at The Island, playing his last ten holes in three-under-par for a 69, as he looks to make the qualifying cut for the first time on his third appearance at The Amateur.

Prestigious

“The back nine was playing tough into the wind so I was pleased to hit some really good shots into demanding holes,” said Robinson, 22, who hails from Birmingham. “It’s a really good event, I love it and when you play well it makes it even better. I’ve had a lot of top-ten’s in my career, not in events as big and prestigious as this but consistent golf really.”

South African Yurav Premlall is also well placed thanks to a two-under-par 70 in the testing conditions at Portmarnock.

“The course is playing really tough today and there are quite high winds out there,” said Premlall, who mixed six birdies with a double bogey and two bogeys. “I had to stay really patient although my putter was working on the front nine and I got momentum early. It gave me a little leeway to make a couple of mistakes but it is really tough.

“Golf RSA has given us the opportunity to play three of the greatest events in links golf, maybe even in the world and this is my first experience of playing links golf. I’m just happy to be up there to challenge.”

Windy conditions

Also at Portmarnock, Sandy Scott reacquainted himself with links golf in solid fashion. The 20-year-old from Nairn in Scotland, who has just finished his penultimate year at Texas Tech University, signed for a one-under-par 71.

“I’m pleased given the conditions,” said the Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup squad member. “I played pretty strategically but was aggressive at the same time and one-under is a solid score.

“I’m not going to get too disappointed at that bogey at the last. It’s a really difficult hole and I won’t be surprised if it is playing around a par five in scoring average. It was different coming back from America. The wind affects the ball so much here. It took me a couple of days to adjust and even still I hit a few shots that were just poor planning and came up with the wrong yardage.”

Of the Irish hopes, local favourite Conor Purcell struggled to a five-over-par 76 on The Island. The leading player in the field, Australia’s David Micheluzzi who is ranked sixth in the world, shot a 74 at Portmarnock, while Akshay Bhatia from the United States of America, world-ranked seventh, carded a 76.

Event information

The Amateur Championship sees the field play another 18 holes of qualifying tomorrow, before the leading 64 players and ties advance to the match play stage at Portmarnock from Wednesday 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 and The Island, while live scoring, news and video can be followed on The R&A’s website and social media platforms.

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