As you were at the West as Raff solidifies lead at the top

Ronan MacNamara
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Caolan Rafferty (Dundalk) on the 15th fairway during Round 2 of the West of Ireland Men's Open Championship 2022, Co. Sligo Golf Club, Rosses Point, Co. Sligo, Ireland. 16/04/2022Picture: Golffile | Thos Caffrey

Caolan Rafferty looks set for a place in the matchplay stages after maintaining his three-shot advantage heading into the final round of strokeplay qualifying at the Connolly’s Audi West of Ireland Championship at Rosses Point.

Despite a second round of two-over 73 the Dundalk native is still in a commanding position at the top of the leaderboard.

Rafferty who won this event when it was 72-hole strokeplay in 2019 arrived in Sligo with low expectations but he has every chance of lifting the title for the second time on Tuesday.

In a remarkable round of golf, the former Walker Cup player carded seventeen pars with the only blemish an unfortunate double-bogey six on the par-4 14th.

The full-time green staff at Dundalk Golf Club holds a thee shot lead over 2021 runner-up Liam Nolan and Roscommon’s Thomas Higgins.

Nolan has plenty of competitive action under his belt having been part of the Golf Ireland squad in South Africa at the beginning of the year. The Galway man also carded a two-over 73 but in much more erratic circumstances carding five bogeys and three birdies, but he is on course to progress to the matchplay.

Scoring was very difficult as Higgins was the only player to break pat with a one-under 70 as winds gusted up to 30 kph on the West coast.

Only three players are under-par through 36 holes as the battle to make the knockout rounds looks set for a dramatic Easter Sunday.

Defending champion Hugh Foley remains in the mix for back-to-back triumphs on level-par after rounds of 70 and 72.

The Royal Dublin golfer was going well and was two-under for his round through 12 holes but coughed up three shots in his last five holes. The Clontarf native shares fifth place alongside Maynooth University’s Ryan Griffin who leads the student charge.

The Ballybofey native carded the joint-low round of the day and has a pair of level-par 71s to his credit.

Gareth Lappin of Belvoir and Andrew Mulholland of Castlerock are well placed on one-over-par while local favourites TJ Ford – reigning South of Ireland champion – and Aodhagan Brady are both on two-over alongside Keith Egan and on course to make the top-16 cut.

Mullingar Scratch Cup winner Jake Whelan and Powerscourt’s David Shiel are on three-over alongside Portrush Scratch Cup winner Matt McClean, while David Kitt, Ross Latimer, Marc Boucher, Jack McDonnell and Alan Fahy are on the cut mark which stands at four-over.

Last year’s joint runner-up Paul Coughlan is on five-over while a host of big names have work to do to keep their hopes alive.

Leading qualifier Jordan Boles also of Maynooth University couldn’t progress on his first round 71, falling to a six-over 77 to lie on that mark through 36-holes.

Irish Amateur Close and Open Champion Peter O’Keeffe is on seven-over after backing up a first-round 72 with a six-over 77. Athenry’s Allan Hill who was in the final group in the European Club is on seven-over while Castle golfer Robert Moran is on plus eight as is former Bridgestone Order of Merit of winner Robert Brazil of Naas.

2007 champion Joe Lyons will need to produce something special from thirteen-over after a chastening eleven-over 82 in the high winds.

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