The West of Ireland Men’s Open returns this weekend at County Sligo GC. Cancelled in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, 2019 champion Caolan Rafferty defends his title in a 72-hole stroke play event held over Saturday and Sunday at Rosses Point.
Usually held over a combined stroke play and matchplay format, the 2019 edition was held over 72 holes of stroke play due to the Rosses Point venue hosting that year’s Flogas Irish Amateur Open the following month. Rafferty won by four strokes two years ago, and he is looking forward to defending his title in the same format this year.
“I prefer stroke play events. It suits me and my game a little better. With matchplay, you could go and shoot six or seven-under and be beaten. Six or seven-under in stroke play won’t be beaten too often,” he said.
“Rosses Point is a really good stroke play course. There’s a good stretch of finishing holes. It should lead to an exciting finish.”
Despite winning the event two years ago, the Dundalk golfer is looking forward to defending the title, albeit a year later than expected.
“I’m just delighted that I’m able to go and defend it. I got a phone call the other day to make sure that I still had the trophy. It’s sitting pretty in the cabinet in the golf club. We’re going to have to fill the spot when I take the trophy, but hopefully it won’t be gone too long!”
Currently 24th in Bridgestone Men’s Order of Merit, Rafferty knows a big week on the Harry Colt-designed links will help him jump up the standings.
“I had one or two good finishes early in the year, and then had a few bad results. I was hitting the ball well, but wasn’t putting well.
“There’s still a few events left for me to jump up the standings. The lads at the top have had really good years, between winning and having consistent finishes. I’m sure I’ll need a few top-three finishes to have a chance of getting near the top, but I’ll give it a go anyways.”
Former champions Robert Brazill, Barry Anderson, Paul Cutler and Joe Lyons join Rafferty in the field as they all look to win the title for a second time. As is traditional at the West of Ireland, an 18-hole qualifier will take place on Friday with at least 16 places up for grabs to complete in the 66-man field.