By John Manley
Christy O’Connor Jr. is developing a modus operandi in his first year of seniors golf. He opens unobtrusively, moves up in his second round with a fair amount of stealth, so as not to draw the attention of the leaders, then comes out smoking in Sunday’s final round, injecting himself into the medalist race. Two weeks after challenging in North Carolina, O’Connor once again nearly earned himself a Tour card in the Nationwide Championship but eventually settled for a third-place tie, three strokes behind Hale Irwin.
O’Connor began Sunday’s round at the Golf Club of Georgia in Alpharetta four shots off Irwin’s lead. A handful of birdies brought him a share of the lead after eight holes, while Irwin was holding even. Another challenge in the form of Bob Murphy also presented itself, and for a few holes on the back nine, he was the one to catch. O’Connor was still in with a chance after sinking his putt for birdie on 18 to close at seven-under 209 (72-69-68) for the tournament. Murphy and Irwin were both eight-under approaching 18, and should they both have bogeyed there, a playoff would have been forced.
The possible permutations became moot when Irwin chipped in over water from about 90 feet to eagle the 18th and earn his first victory of the season.
Murphy holed out for par and sole possession of second place, while O’ Connor, playing on a sponsor’s exemption, shared third with Jose Maria Canizares.
O’Connor’s cut of the purse came to $92,400, which enabled him to leapfrog from 59th position on the money list to 33rd place with $155,510 from just three events. O’Connor will not be playing in this weekend’s Las Vegas Senior Classic, but will contest as many events as he can obtain sponsor’s exemptions for, unless and until he posts a win, in which case he would become automatically exempt
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Eamonn Darcy finished the first round of the French Open in Bordeaux with a five-under 66, placing him just a stroke off the lead. Darcy vanished somewhat, shooting 70 and 72 over the next two rounds, but reappeared on Sunday with a 68 to grab a share of fifth place at 276 with Ian Woosnam and Jorge Berendt. The top of the leaderboard was never a realistic consideration, however, as Retief Goosen and Greg Turner, at 272, finished three shots ahead of the duo tied in third place. Goosen won the playoff on the second hole.
Des Smyth also gave a good account, earning a tie for 17th place. He finished at 280 (70-69-71-70). As for John McHenry, at least he waits until he’s made the cut before his game deserts him. The Corkman opened with rounds of 67 and 70, then shot 75 and 78 on the weekend. Unlike last week, when McHenry finished dead last, his closing number of 290 tied him for 72nd place with four others, with three more starters behind them. Unable to make the cut with a 36-hole figure of 142 or better was Philip Walton, who signed out at 146 (71-75).