Tuesday, 12 September 2017
Tom Murray  (Getty Images)
Tom Murray (Getty Images)

The last shot Tom Murray hit at the Irish Challenge hosted by Mount Wolseley Hotel, Spa and Golf Resort was the winning putt; the last thing he did in Carlow was lift the trophy.

That was two years ago. Now the Englishman returns to Ireland after missing last year’s edition as he supported his girlfriend Sophie while she competed for Great Britain at the Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Hoping to benefit from the boost of being back at the scene of his maiden victory, Murray is keen to make up for lost time, and to retain a crown he still feels is rightfully his.

“They’re great memories,” said the 27 year old. “It seems like quite a long time ago but it’s nice to come back because I couldn’t be here last year.

“I had a pretty good reason not to be here last year, two weeks in Rio – and I wouldn’t have missed that for the world. It was a shame not to be here and to have missed my defence of this, but it was the right decision.

It definitely feels like a title defence - the last time I was here I won, so of course I'm defending champion!

“It definitely feels like a title defence. In theory I’m the defending champion – it’s my title, not the title! The last shot I hit here was the winning putt, the last time I was here I won, so of course I’m defending.”

The win two years ago came in dramatic fashion, with Murray prevailing in a play-off against Italy’s Nino Bertasio by holing a long birdie putt on the second extra hole.

“I don’t remember a lot about 2015!” he said. “I holed a putt on the last, not really knowing what it was for but I knew it was a big putt, to get in the play-off.

“Nino looked like he’d holed a putt to win on the first extra hole, I remember thinking ‘it’s over,’ but then it lipped out, and then on the next hole I holed a longer version of the putt I’d already holed on the last.

“It was kind of surreal really, not ecstatic or anything, because Nino still had a putt to carry it on, but it was all just a bit weird, it didn’t hit me immediately.

“It was huge for my confidence. Just to know you can win out here is so big, because all the guys out here are so good, but to get it over the line was important for that year and for going forwards, to know you can not just compete but also win .”

Only six events remain on this year’s Challenge Tour schedule following this week in Ireland, with every player targeting the top 15 in the Road to Oman Rankings and, with it, a European Tour card for next season.

Murray has had a solid season so far, the highlight a fourth place finish in the Andalucía Costa del Sol Match Play 9 in May, but, at 49th in the Rankings, he has some catching up to do.

While others are feeling the pressure of time running out, however, Murray is feeling comfortable with his game, having not missed a cut since the start of July, and is trying to view this week the same as he would any other.

“It honestly doesn’t change anything,” he said. “Once you get out on the course, you’re just trying to play golf, make birdies – it doesn’t matter if it’s in Ireland, Kazakhstan, China, it doesn’t really matter.

“Obviously we’re now in an important part of the year, coming towards the end of the season, but I’m in position and playing well enough to have a bit of confidence.

“The year so far has been ok. I’ve made a lot of cuts but not really made a lot of headway on the Road to Oman but that can change so quickly, one or two putts here and there or the right shot at the right time, hopefully this week.”

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