By John Manley
Last week’s Murphy’s Irish Open was a whirl of surprises. One minute, defending champion Colin Montgomerie had a three-stroke lead after an opening-round 65, the next he’s straining a ligament in his ankle and posting a 74 in the second round. One minute, Barry Lane is equaling Monty’s course record of 62 and is tied for the lead entering the final round, then the next he’s stumbling his way to a 79, tying him for 16th place. Finally, out of the mist came David Carter, who had a near-death experience in Dubai last year but overcame that hurdle plus some self-imposed obstacles over the final 18 holes to finish deadlocked with Montgomerie at 6-under 278 at the end of regulation.
Carter was up by four shots with six holes to play at Druids Glen in Wicklow, but a double bogey courtesy of a penalty stroke was a portent of things to come. He suffered all sorts of misadventures on 16, finding sand and deep hay en route to the green. He trudged through sand on 17, then his ball went nautical on 18. Having finished on even terms with the Scotsman, Carter found the green with his second shot on the first playoff hole, while Montgomerie’s ball drowned in the pond. When Monty’s fifth shot failed to drop, he conceded to Carter, who enjoyed his first victory on the European tour.
The only Irish threat to emerge from the field came from the unlikeliest corner. John McHenry admitted to having gotten on his knees to beg for a sponsor’s exemption to this tournament. He redeemed the faith shown in him by finishing tied for third with Peter Baker at 280, two shots off the top pair. McHenry came into the Open after an unsuccessful stint on the Canadian Tour, where he exiled himself after losing his European Tour privileges. He was unable to make the cut in four tournaments in Canada, and he won’t be returning. His finish at Druids Glen entitles him to a spot in this week’s Loch Lomond Open in Scotland, and he needn’t earn much more to get his card back for 1999.
McHenry actually had a share of the lead after the second round, having opened with scores of 70 and 68. He was a stroke behind Lane and Carter after shooting 70 on Saturday, then closed with a 72 on Sunday. The Corkman was anything but despondent at not topping out. His expressed desire was to produce a finish that would enable him to get back on tour in Europe, a wish that appears to have been granted.
Wicklow’s own Eamonn Darcy was the next highest Irish finisher, tying for 25th at 3-over 287 (74-72-69-72). Keith Nolan, a product of Bray, had a successful venture in his first tournament in Ireland as a pro. He tied for 39th at 8-over 292 (71-74-71-76). The only other Irishmen to get on course over the weekend were David Higgins, who tied for 53rd at 295 (75-69-72-79), and Raymond Burns, who tied for 58th at 296 (74-71-73-78).
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Among the more prominent names who played 72 holes were Ian Woosnam and Jose Maria Olazabal, who were among six tied for 9th at 284, Lee Westwood, who was all alone in 15th at 285, Nick Faldo, tied for 27th at 288, and Ernie Elks, tied for 33rd at 290.
The field was chock full of Irish golfers at tee-off on Thursday, but most fell by the wayside, although none so ingloriously as Padraig Harrington. Coming into the Open off a credible showing in the U.S. Open, Harrington may not have left his heart in San Francisco, but certainly an essential component of his golfing arsenal did not make the trip back with him. He opened with a 10-over 81, from which he clipped 10 strokes on Friday, but he missed the cut by five. Surprisingly lackluster efforts were also forthcoming from Darren Clarke, Paul McGinley, Christy O’Connor, Jr. and Philip Walton, none of whom played past the 36-hole threshold.
This Tour swings back to Ireland next month when the K Club hosts the Smurfit European Open, beginning Aug. 20.
Coughlan 70th at Hartford
Richard Coughlan has set his priorities on earning checks in this country so as to retain his playing privileges without need of having to requalify at Q-School in December. So last week was time well spent for the Offaly native, who made his first cut in over a month at the Canon Greater Hartford Open at the TPC River Highlands Course in Cromwell, Conn. Coughlan tied for 70th place with a score of 1-over 281 (69-70-69-73) and earned $4,020. Coughlan was 15 strokes behind the low trio at 266, of which Olin Browne emerged victorious after a playoff. Next up is the Quad City Open in Illinois, where Coughlan and Nolan will attempt to tackle a field devoid of the big names, who are looking ahead to next week’s British Open.
Kernohan rallies at Hershey
After the first round of the Hershey Open at the Country Club of Hershey in Pennsylvania, John Kernohan was in serious danger of missing the cut of this Nike Tour event. His first-round foray produced a 2-over-par 73, but Kernohan righted himself, shooting 66 in the second round to finish the day tied for fifth place. A 72 in the third frame saw him drop out of contention for the title, but his final round 71 enabled him to tie for 10th. His 2-under 282 was nine strokes off the winner, Michael Clark.
European Seniors Tour
The Lawrence Batley Seniors at the Huddersfield Golf Club in Yorkshire, England found two Irishmen among the top 10 finishers. Paul Leonard was two shots off the lead heading into the third and final round, but a closing 73 thwarted his title aspirations. Leonard, with opening scores of 72 and 68, settled for a fifth-place tie at 213. Joe McDermott’s final round 69 tied him for low score of the day and helped him finish in a 10th-place tie at 215, after shooting 73 in each of the first two rounds.
Further down the list were Liam Higgins, tied for 17th at 218 (73-73-72), David Jones, tied for 23rd at 219 (68-75-76), Eddie Polland, tied for 30th at 221 (74-74-73) and Michael Murphy, tied for 37th at 226 (78-76-72). South Africa’s Bobby Verwey and Spain’s Antonio Garrido decided the championship in a playoff after finishing tied at 210. Verwey won the playoff.