Claire Dowling, of Ireland, Warwickshire, Curtis Cup and the Universe, shot a staggering second round 67 for an aggregate of 142 to lead the qualifiers for the Warwickshire Ladies Championship at Edgbaston yesterday, writes Michael Blair.
Mrs Dowling's achievements are legendary and this latest manifestation of her enduring skills surprised no-one. But the determination of the chasing pack gave great delight to all those involved in the emancipation of ladies golf in the county. Five of the 16 qualifiers for the matchplay stages over the next two stages are aged 18 and under.
The 18- year- old is Felicity Johnson, of Harborne, and her qualifying mark of 77, 71 surprised no-one except those, perhaps, who looked twice at her first round score. But how about a 14-year-old making it through to this morning's first round matchplay? Abbey Gittins, from Walmley, described as pint-sized, shot rounds of 77 and 78, finished seventh in the lists and has set this competition, now sponsored by Birmingham-based Rydale Cars, alight.
Her precocious talents stand out, but not overwhelmingly. Three of the juniors who passed on to the matchplay stages had never even played in the Championship before. " Phenomenal," said county vice-captain, Anne Parry.
There was Hannah Coles, of Maxstoke Park, with rounds of 74, 80, Charlotte Dalton ( Ladbrook Park), 83,82 and 16- year- old Lauren Wayte, of Nuneaton, who handed in an aggregate of
167. Mrs Dowling is going to have her work cut out to hang on to her title. n Darren Clarke has secured an invitation for one of his Golf Foundation graduates to play in the Daily Telegraph Dunlop Masters at the Forest of Arden next week.
Rory McIlroy, one of the most exciting prospects in Irish amateur golf, will tee it up against the likes of Clarke, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter.
McIlroy, still only 15 and recent winner of the West of Ireland Championship, has earned glowing praise since Clarke first spotted his potential three years ago at his Foundation.
"Rory has a special talent and I had no reservations about seeking an invitation for him to play," said the Ryder Cup star. "I am sure he will enjoy and benefit from the experience."
Jordan Finlay, winner of the 2004 Daily Telegraph junior title, also plays. A special room has been set aside at the resort's hotel so he can sit his English GCSE examination. n Former Open champion John Daly, reigning US Open champion Retief Goosen and Europe's top player Padraig Harrington have entered the Deutsche Bank Players Championship of Europe in Hamburg on July 21-24.