England’s James Claridge and Rosses Point’s own Barry Anderson will duel it out for glory at the centenary Connolly’s Audi West of Ireland Championship at County Sligo Golf Club after emerging victorious in epic battles against the elements, and Marc Boucher and Shane McDermott respectively in the morning’s semi-finals.
With the wind strong from the off, Boucher and Claridge traded birdies at one and two, before the Carton House man took back-to-back wins on six and seven to open up a two-hole gap. Never down more than a hole prior, Claridge responded with a neat up-and-down to take the ninth and when Boucher missed a four-footer on 10 it was all-square.
Heavy rain then moved in as they began their assault on the back nine, making the already hardest stretch of the course significantly more difficult.
Boucher edged in front again on the 11th with a perfectly-judged lag-putt from distance and they’d trade pars at 12 and 13, but when Boucher found trouble off the tee on 14, Claridge’s par brought them back level again.
A par at 15 was enough to give Boucher the lead again, but a beautifully flighted 2-iron into the par-3 16th – it was playing 200 yards and Claridge admitted that he’d usually hit it 250 – saw the Enville clubman draw back level. They’d be inseparable through 17 and 18, both incredibly parring the closer as the wind and rain turned biblical, meaning a sudden-death playoff awaited.
Both made par on one, but when Boucher was unable to get up-and-down from over the second green, Claridge was left with a two-footer that he duly dispatched to make it through to the final.
“If I’ve played in worse conditions than that, I can’t remember it,” the popular 20-year-old said afterwards. “When you’re hitting the longer shots, you know the wind is going to hit it and you can play for that, but it makes putting so much more difficult because you’re trying to judge the line and the wind together.”
In the second match of the day, 2017 West of Ireland champion Anderson went two-down through three, but took the next four holes with solid play as mistakes began to creep in for McDermott, and the Sligo man would enjoy a 2-UP lead at the turn.
The 25-year-old Cavan man pulled one back on the 10th, then missed a shortish birdie putt on 11 to go all-square, and he’d find himself two adrift again after a mistake on his second-shot to 12.
McDermott’s battling qualities were on display all week, however, and pars at the treacherous 14th and 16th holes saw him draw back level again.
The toughest hole all week, and with the tees back and into headwinds now gusting over 50kph, the 17th is a monster, and Anderson’s five was enough to give him a 1-UP lead. On the 18th, McDermott found the greenside bunker in two, and with Anderson on the front edge, knew he’d probably need to hole-out to extend the match and came desperately close to doing so.
Anderson lagged to three feet and, similar to the putt that he holed to beat James Hewitt the evening before, made no mistake to keep the dream of a home champion in the West’s centenary year alive.
“You were just trying to make pars, and even bogeys were sometimes enough,” Anderson said afterwards, “it was a war of attrition and you’re just trying to limit mistakes really.
“I remember one match against Rory McNamara in the 2010 West of Ireland and it was probably worse than that, but this week has certainly run it close a few times.”
The 32-year-old accountant had to make an emergency phone call to his superior yesterday evening to book the day off, but now he’s just one step away from delivering County Sligo Golf Club its first winner since Anderson’s own win in 2017.
The final is due to get underway at 13:30, and you can follow live scoring at the link below.
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