The best players in the world will be at Augusta National for the Masters but the top class field that will assemble at County Sligo for the “Radisson Blu Hotel” West of Ireland Championship will argue that they have the better gig.
The spectacularly beautiful Rosses Point links can be a beast in bad weather but it is still one of golf’s special places. Just ask past winners such as Padraig Harrington or Rory McIlroy, who will be battling to become the first Irishmen to don a green jacket in Georgia as the stars of tomorrow try to add their names to the roll of honour in the wild west from April 2-6. (See draw)
The 2009 champion, David Corsby of Lytham, has already joined the professional ranks. But there will still be a quality field in action, led by three of Corsby’s compatriots and the cream of Irish amateur golf.
The three lowest handicapper are all from the UK and two of them are members of the England senior panel – Jack Senior (Heysham, plus 4.0), Liam Burns (Sundridge Park, plus 3.9) and Jonathan Hurst (Shawhill, plus 3.5).
Hurst knows all about the West, having lost to Paul O’Hanlon in the quarter-finals in 2008 and eventual champion Corsby in the last 16 just 12 months ago. But the smart money will be on an Irish champion with all the big title winners from 2009 set to tee it up: East of Ireland champ Paul Cutler, “South” winner Robbie Cannon, the St Andrews Links Trophy holder Alan Dunbar, the reigning North of Ireland champion Wayne Telford and the Irish Close champion Pat Murray.
Add to that illustrious group the likes of Ireland internationals Dara Lernihan, Cian Curley and Paul Dunne and Connacht stalwarts such as Kelan McDonagh, Michael Durcan, Eddie McCormack and 2007 champion Joe Lyons and the competition is sure to be fierce.
It is a testament to the huge popularity of the “West” that the Connacht Branch received a record 220 entries for just 141 places in the draw - the highest in the event’s 88-year history. The handicap cut off point was an impressive 0.7.