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Sunny skies belie stern challenge at Open venue

BLUE skies, a light breeze but menace at every turn.

LIAM JOHNSTON: Dumfries golfer finished  just one shot  off the lead
LIAM JOHNSTON: Dumfries golfer finished just one shot off the lead

On the day Royal Portrush was officially welcomed back on to the Open Championship rota, the old Country Antrim links was not going to lie down and roll out the welcome mat for those competing in the Amateur Championship.

There certainly was not a warm reception for last year's English Boys' champion Ben Amor. A torrid 21-over-par 91 was strewn with the kind of large figures that used to be scribbled down by the Roly Polys' tailor as he trudged in with an eye-watering card that featured just a solitary par in an outward half of 51. He did finish with a flourish by making a birdie on the last, though.

Liam Johnston knows all about golfing calamity. Three years ago at Dunbar, the Dumfries lad was on the receiving end of one of the great comebacks when he surrendered a seven-hole lead with just 14 to play against Troon's David Wilson in the final of the Scottish Boys' Championship and lost on the second extra hole.

Yesterday, the 21-year-old negotiated his way nicely around Portstewart, the co-host of the 36-hole strokeplay phase this week, with a tidy three-under 68 which started with a brace of birdies at the first and second. That left Johnston handily placed in the upper echelons of the standings behind the early pacesetter, Daniel Brown, who carved out a four-under 66 at Portrush.

The former Yorkshire Boys' champion birdied three of his first five holes, endured a wobble in the middle then made gains at four of his last seven holes to move to the front. "I just kept it in play," was his simple summing up.

James Ross, who was last season's Scottish Golfer of the Year, opened with a steady one-under 71 at Portstewart while Grant Forrest, the winner of last weekend's St Andrews Links Trophy had to settle for a two-over 73 there.

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