Barry Anderson returns to Co Sligo as defending champion at the 96th West of Ireland, which runs from 30 March to 3 April with the pre-championship qualifier starting today.
The winner of this year’s West of Ireland will have the added bonus of an early lead in the race for the Bridgestone Order of Merit title.
The first of eight events in the Bridgestone series, preparations for this instalment of the West are almost complete with the final field set to be announced after today’s play for Friday’s opening round.
Defending champion Barry Anderson can become the first back-to-back champion since Rory McIlroy by retaining his crown, a tantalising prospect for the host club. Anderson captured hearts and minds at Co Sligo last year, winning the fabled West on familiar terrain to join Cecil Ewing in the pantheon of home winners at Rosses Point.
First he must navigate two rounds of stroke play qualifying. The top-64 at the end of Saturday’s second round progress to the match play stages, which begin on Sunday. Last year the cut fell at 151 (plus nine). A countback, if necessary, will determine the final list of qualifiers.
The championship commences with a klaxon start for the first group of players on Friday morning at 9am. The second wave gets underway at 2pm.
Ireland international Robin Dawson (Tramore) is the lowest man in the field, now playing off plus 4.5, and at 93 in the world he is also the highest ranked player. His Ireland teammate Alex Gleeson (Castle) boasts a handicap of plus 4.4 and is well accustomed to the links at Rosses Point from childhood summers as a junior member.
Gleeson was beaten by eventual champion Barry Anderson last year, losing out at the third extra hole of their first round match. Also contending at the West is reigning Flogas Irish Amateur Open champion Peter O’Keeffe from Douglas. AIG Irish Amateur Close winner Jamie Fletcher flies the flag for Warrenpoint.
The damage caused by coastal erosion at Co Sligo means that competitors will face an additional challenge on the back nine this year with the seashore right of holes 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17 now out of bounds.
This year marks the first staging of the championship since the passing of Sligo stalwart Fred Perry whose rapport with players and spectators alike made him synonymous with the event.
Only four players will make it through to the final day and the last man standing on Tuesday afternoon (3 April) will lay claim to the West of Ireland crown for 2018.