Wednesday, May 22, 2024

McClean wins maiden Irish title after an epic duel with Nolan – Irish Golfer Magazine

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On a glorious Sunday afternoon, teammates and friends became foes as Matthew McClean and Liam Nolan, neck and neck since shot one of day one, went to battle under the watchful eye of Ben Bulben in Rosses Point.

The cream really came to the top of the Flogas Irish Men’s Amateur Open Championship as the Walker Cup duo went head to head, both with wins in major championships but still searching for that elusive maiden Irish title.

In the duel between the steady campaigner and the player with the potential, the flair and exuberance, it was McClean who was the last man standing, banishing the ghosts of his playoff loss in the Island in 2022, to win by two shots on eleven-under while Nolan’s demons at this very venue in 2022 came back to haunt him on the 17th yet again.

“It’s my first Irish championship, I came close quite a few times, too many to think about, specifically two years ago lost in a playoff. This is one I really wanted to win after 2022 but I wanted to play as aggressive golf as possible,” said McClean who ground out a round of 69 after some late drama in County Sligo.

“Thankfully a couple of putts dropped for me in the end. It was a great battle with Liam, he played great for three days, had a struggle today but he’s been off golf for a number of months but he didn’t do anything wrong for the most part. That last day is the hardest day for all of us, I’ve been there plenty of times and I know how he feels.

“I’m just happy to get this one thankfully.”

McClean was faced with a tough task in overturning a four-shot overnight deficit but a nervy start from Nolan that saw him three-putt bogey the 2nd and double the par-5 3rd opened the door and the Malone man drew level on ten-under with a birdie on 3.

“I got off to a good start and we were level after 3 holes which wipes it out. The only advantage I had was 20 hours of sitting knowing I have to catch him. That was my mindset, I only caught him then, he came back very well and made a few birdies.”

Nolan to his credit, backed by a healthy Galway following as the resident Connacht man, rallied and went two clear with birdies on 5 and 7 and a bogey on 9 still saw him enter the back nine with a one shot advantage.

That gap extended to two shots once more as McClean let a shot go on the 10th as things began to turn back in the favour of Nolan.

McClean reduced the deficit to the minimum with a birdie on the par-5 12th but still Nolan held him off as both players headed down the famous last five holes in County Sligo Golf Club.

Both players hit aggressive shots into the par-4 15th green and McClean rolled his birdie putt home before Nolan shaved the edge. A matchplay moment, the scores tied at eleven-under apiece with three to go.

Now very much a matchplay situation the 16th was halved in pars and both players were safely off the tee on 17. McClean, who went first almost every time, found the heart of the treacherous 17th green with a classy long iron. Nolan, who had just rolled into the rough before the valley dip, caught a flier and went long into the rough at the back of the green.

Nolan, 24, lost the 2022 West of Ireland final to Alan Fahy on the 17th two years ago and an excellent recovery gave him a chance of saving his par, but a nervy putt saw him fall one behind for the first time since Friday.

McClean, who limited his mistakes to just one bogey, found the middle of the 18th green while Nolan’s approach from the right rough ran over the back of the green and he was unable to chip in for the birdie he needed and closed with a bogey, bogey finish that will sting.

“I always felt like I was still chasing which is easier in that position. I only had to hold on coming down the last which was the first time I was ahead and I managed to get that par in at the last,” said McClean.

Like his golf game, it’s been a steady ascent in the world of amateur golf for McClean who has landed big milestones over the last three years and he adds the Irish Amateur title to his Walker Cup appearance last year and his 2022 US Mid-Amateur win in 2022 where he got the better of Hugh Foley in Erin Hills.

The Belfast based optometrist credits his win in the States as a sliding doors moment.

“The Mid-Am was massive, that was the first time I won a championship anywhere and for it to be a USGA event was massive for me, as big as it was an Irish championship was always going to be the number one on my list.

“The Irish Am is always number one on the list and I’ll enjoy tonight.”

The anticipated rain never came on Sunday afternoon and as the wind lay down, low scoring was the order of the day.

Home favourite TJ Ford claimed third place on six-under as he carded the low round of the day with a 65.

Welshman Tom Matthews recovered from a poor start to take 4th on five-under after a 71 while Royal Dublin’s Hugh Foley gained some much needed confidence after a 66 gave him solo 5th on four-under.

Scotland’s Matthew Wilson, Berehaven’s Joe O’Neill and County Louth’s Gavin Tiernan rounded off the under par scoring on -3 and in a share of 6th place.

The top-10 was completed on level-par by Cian O’Connor (Roscommon), Jack McDonnell (Royal Dublin), Caolan Rafferty (Dundalk), Gregor Graham (Scotland), Fionn Dobbin (Malone), Gregor Tait (Scotland), Sean Keeling (Roganstown) and Daniel Bennett (South Africa).

 

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