Star field to make it rough for Diamond
THE West of Ireland championship breaks new ground at Co Sligo GC when the traditional first GUI Major of the season opens this day next week with an 18-hole qualifying round for 81 hopefuls.
Only the top three will qualify for the starting line-up of 123, who play the first round of stroke-play qualifying on Good Friday. After Easter Saturday's second round, the top 64 go through to the match-play series, starting on Easter Sunday.
The cut-off point for the championship proper fell at 0.0, with Lucan's Richard O'Donovan the lowest handicap in the field at plus-4.7. At the other end of the scale, the highest handicapped player to get into the qualifying round is Charles McGoldrick of Enniscrone.
Charles, son of the late and highly respected Enniscrone Pro Charlie McGoldrick, plays off 4.7.
Holder Harry Diamond from Holywood GC in Belfast is back, while other former winners in the field are 2010 winner Rory Leonard (Banbridge) and Joe Lyons of Galway, who triumphed in 2007.
Last year's runner-up Stephen Healy from Claremorris will be aiming to go one better this year.
Internationals Dermot McElroy (Ballymena), Rory McNamara (Headfort) and Reeve Whitson (Mourne) are among the favourites.
Home club Co Sligo has not had a West winner since the great Cecil Ewing annexed the championship for the 10th time in 1950.
The Rosses Point club has four players in the main draw – Gary McDermott, Steffan O'Hara, Sean Flanagan, and Stephen Brady.
A number of overseas players have entered, but the last non-national to take the trophy abroad was Finland's Mikko Ilonen in 1999.
A year later, he became the first Finn to win the British Amateur title, while in 2007 had Tour wins in the Scandinavian Open and the Indonesian Open.