Eight-man playoff thriller at West qualifier
The magnificent seven. (L to R) Alan Duffy (Royal Tara), Jack Walsh (Castle), Shane O'Connor (Castlebar), James Kelly (Elm Park), Declan Kelly (Hermitage), Jonathan Doherty (Ballina) and Serryth Heavey (Co.Sligo) prepare to play-off at Co Sligo. Colin Wilton opted not to return to the course. Picture: Thos Caffrey / www.golffile.ie

The magnificent seven. (L to R) Alan Duffy (Royal Tara), Jack Walsh (Castle), Shane O'Connor (Castlebar), James Kelly (Elm Park), Declan Kelly (Hermitage), Jonathan Doherty (Ballina) and Serryth Heavey (Co.Sligo) prepare to play-off at Co Sligo. Colin Wilton opted not to return to the course. Picture: Thos Caffrey / www.golffile.ie

The second Radisson Blu sponsored West of Ireland Amateur Open Championship ‘Pre-Qualifier’ produced a dramatic eight-man playoff for the last three spots at Co Sligo.

The Championship Committee's decision to increase the number of qualifying berths from three to six and replace withdrawals from Good Friday’s first round draw with the leading players in the Qualifier rather than a traditional Reserve List has proved to be a huge success.

Qualifying scoreboard

With three players already withdrawing from the Championship draw at least nine spots were up for grabs at Rosses Point on Wednesday.

Photo gallery via Golffile.ie

And Co Sligo's David Brady made sure of his when he fired a two under 69 on his home links to head a group of six players who made it without the stress of a play off - Jonathan Breen (Knock) 71; Daniel O'Connor (Athlone) 73, Devin Morley (Oughterard) 73, Patrick Neville (Bearna) 73, Brian O'Reilly (Athenry) 73.

The 18th at County Sligo during last year's Championship. Picture © Brian Keogh

The 18th at County Sligo during last year's Championship. Picture © Brian Keogh

Eight players shot 74 to qualify for a playoff for the three remaining places —  Jonathan Doherty (Ballina), Declan Kelly (Hermitage), Alan Duffy (Royal Tara), Shane O’Connor (Castlebar), James Kelly (Elm Park), Serryth Heavey (Co. Sligo), Colin Wilton (Banbridge) and Jack Walsh (Castle).

However,  Wilton had already headed home and chose not to return when he heard he had made the playoff. That left seven and soon there were just five when O’Connor and Walsh bowed out at the first playoff hole.

All five made par at the uphill second but Heavey was the only one to make his par-five at the downhill third, guaranteeing his place in Friday's draw.

Just three players went to the par-three fourth tee, however, as James Kelly bowed out on the third when he lost a ball off the tee.

All three made regulation par threes and headed to the 18th and all made par with Duffy matched by youngsters Doherty and Declan Kelly, who both got up and down brilliantly for par.

All three then parred the first, the sixth extra hole, before Duffy's birdie three at the second left the  two teenagers battle it out for the final spot down the par-five third.

Having three-putted for six the first time around, Doherty made amends with a winning par to Kelly’s six to secure the final place in the field.

According to the Connacht Branch, all the 14 players who qualified automatically or made the playoff have handicaps between 1 and 4, leaving a host of scratch men in their wake.

"In fact," writes the Connacht Branch, "of the first 32 players in the Qualifier results only five were off scratch handicap out of the 18 in the field. Out of the next 24 players playing off 1 only 4 players qualified or were in the playoff."

These figures will raise questions about the handicapping system and they certainly back up the West of Ireland Championship Committee's decision to move away from the reserve list and award places in the West field on playing ability by bringing in the qualifying system last year.

As for the pace of place, the move to 11-minute intervals between groups this year appears to have worked well with the entire field getting around well inside the allotted 4 hours 23 minutes.