The Radisson Blu sponsored West of Ireland Amateur Open gets underway at County Sligo on Friday. But while the bookies have installed defending champion Rory McNamara as the 10/1 favourite ahead of Ballymena's Dermot McElroy, it looks wide open this year.
With top college players Gavin Moynihan, Paul Dunne and Chris Selfridge all in the US, there are more than a dozen worthy candidates in the 132-man field with genuine hopes of winning the coveted title.
The Top 64-after 36 holes of strokeplay combat will make the draw for the first round of matchplay on Sunday.
McNamara is certainly a worthy candidate given his record and may well become the first player since Rory McIlroy in 2006 to retain the title. As for McElroy, called up with Jack Hume, Moynihan and Gary Hurley to the GB&I St Andrews Trophy squad yesterday, the 21-year old is a sensational golfer but his record at Rosses Point is modest.
He's has failed to make it past the third round in four appearances and admits his putting has been spotty this year despite finishing second in the South African Amateur Strokeplay and helping Europe to victory in the recent Bonallack Trophy in India.
That said, he's determined to win an amateur "major" and has shelved plans to join the pro ranks in mid-season despite earning some status on the Challenge Tour by making it to the final stage of European Tour Qualifying School last year.
“It’s all going to depend on how the putter is working,” McElroy said of his hopes. “I’ve a habit of missing four three-footers a round and that’s just giving holes away so that’s going to be key, especially if it’s very windy. Hopefully this year it will be a bit different for me on the greens but to be honest, my putting’s been very poor this year.
“I just want to win one of the big amateur events, so it would be nice to win a ‘West’ or the North of Ireland, or any of them to be honest. I’ve no idea when I will turn professional, but I don't think it will be this year. I’m going to finish the amateur season. I had thought about going after the British Amateur at Royal Portrush and Portstewart but I think I’d just like to wait.
“Matchplay is a tough format and I’d have tough matches in every single year at the West since I first went in 2010. I’ve never managed to get past the third round and I’ve just gifted people holes by missing short putts. But that’s all in the past. All I’m thinking about now is having a good run here for a change.”
Hume, Hurley, Reeve Whitson, local man Gary McDermott, 2012 winner Harry Diamond, Irish Amateur Open champion Robbie Cannon and Massereene's Tiarnan McLarnon will all have their backers.
But there's also Claremorris' Stephen Healy, who reached the quarter-finals of the South last year. He fell in the first round of last year's West having reached the final in 2012 but will certainly be dangerous in matchplay.
Defending champion has been working hard on his game at his Spanish base and having claimed the 36-hole Lee Valley Senior Scratch Cup last weekend, he’s playing well enough to pull it off.
“My game is getting a lot better all round and what I am looking for now is consistency, which is what is needed for the pro ranks,” said McNamara, who will turn professional later this year.
“The last four years have been great at Rosses Point, reaching two semis and losing to Paul Cutler in 2012 before winning it last year. It’s been a good place for me and I am looking forward to getting back into tournament mode.”
Who do you fancy? Try our poll, below, to see how your choice compares.
Radisson Blu West of Ireland Amateur Open Championship, Co Sligo GC.
Strokeplay Qualifying, tee-times (Today/Tomorrow)
- (7.00/11.02) D Brady (Co Sligo), J Breen (Knock), D O'Connor (Athlone)
- (7.11/11.13) D Morley (Oughterard), P Neville (Bearna), B O'Reilly (Athenry)
- (7.22/11.24) D Reidy (Co Sligo), E Cradock (Gort), S Brady (Co Sligo)
- (7.33/11.35) E McCormack (Galway), T Cleary (Dromoland), J Yates (Naas)
- (7.44/11.46) S Barry (Fota (Island)d), P Murray (Limerick), R Mullarney (Galway)
- (7.55/11.57) S Maloney (Dunmurry Springs), K Quigg City of Derry), G Bohill (Co Louth)
- (8.06/12.08) N Crawford (Mourne), D Brennan (Shannon), J Rackard (Bunclody)
- (8.17/12.19) T Jordan (Dungannon), P Coughlan (Moate), J McLaughlin (Portumna)
- (8.28/12.30) G Dunne (Co Louth), A Kelly (The Heritage), G Mungovan (Headfort)
- (8.39/12.41) R Pierse (Grange), M Morrissey (Mount Wolseley), C McKenna (Mallow)
- (8.50/12.52) R O'Donovan (Lucan), D Morgan (Mullingar), M Buggy (Castlecomer)
- (9.01/13.03) R McNamara (Headfort), R Cannon (Balbriggan), D McCusker (Moyola Park)
- (9.12/13.14) G Collins (Rosslare), J Hume (Rathsallagh), S Carter (Stackstown)
- (9.23/13.25) R Whitson (Mourne), Alan Thomas (Dungarvan), T Coffey (Slieve Russell)
- (9.34/13.36) H Diamond (Belvoir Park), S O'Hara (Co Sligo), K McCarthy (Castlemartyr)
- (9.45/13.47) D McElroy (Ballymena), S Grehan (Tullamore), A Gleeson (Castle)
- (9.56/13.58) G Hurley (West (Waterford), S Healy (Claremorris), S McCarthy (Black Bush)
- (10.07/14.09) G McKenna (Fortwilliam), T McLarnon (Massereene), S McGlynn (Carton House)
- (10.18/14.20) G McDermott (Co Sligo), K Lovelock (Hindhead), E Arthurs (Forrest Little)
- (10.29/14.31) R Kennelly (Portmarnock), C Drumm (Royal Dublin), J Gourley (Shandon Park)
- (10.40/14.42) E Ryan (Lucan), S Coulter (Warrenpoint), Paul Flynn (Tramore)
- (10.51/14.53) C Geraghty (Laytown & Bettystown), S Ryan (Royal Dublin), B Daly (Edmondstown)
- (11.02/7.00) E Smith (Ardee), J Lyons (Galway), D Barry (Castlemartyr)
- (11.13/7.11) E O'Keeffe (Corrstown), Ian Lynch (Rosslare), J McVicker (Knock)
- (11.24/7.22) N Foley (Island), J Whelan (Newlands), Chris Watt (Silverwood)
- (11.35/7.33) B Best (Rathmore), S Heavey (Co Sligo), E Griffin (Waterford)
- (11.46/7.44) W Russell (Clandeboye), M Sinclair (Knock), C O'Rourke (Naas)
- (11.57/7.55) K Crowley (Fota Island), M Shanahan (Castlemartyr), D Sutton (Lurgan)
- (12.08/8.06) S Cullen (Slieve Russell), T O'Connor Athlone), S Hogan (Nenagh)
- (12.19/8.17) R Gribben (Warrenpoint), J Hopkins (Royal Dublin), D Holland (Castle)
- (12.30/8.28) S Loftus (Lahinch), D Coghlan (Portmarnock), C Campbell (Warrenpoint)
- (12.41/8.39) S Moran (Carton House), J Sutherland (Galgorm Castle), G Lenehan (Portmarnock)
- (12.52/8.50) S O'Connor (Luttrellstown Castle), J Hood (Galgorm Castle), J Doherty (Ballina)
- (13.03/9.01) G Lawlor (Newbridge), M McClean Balmoral), A Duffy (Royal Tara)
- (13.14/9.12) S Bryan (Delgany), JR Galbraith (Whitehead), K Stack (Dungarvan)
- (13.25/9.23) J Fox (Portmarnock), M Wylie (_.), C Carroll (Shandon Park)
- (13.36/9.34) B Anderson (Royal Dublin), M Kane (Whitehead), R Bridges (Stackstown)
- (13.47/9.45) C Fairweather (Knock), D Callister (Mount Murray), C Rafferty (Greenore)
- (13.58/9.56) C Doran (Banbridge), T Gandy (Mount Murray), J Hickey (Cork)
- (14.09/10.07) E Murphy (Cork), S Flanagan (Co Sligo), I Kettyle (Rathmore)
- (14.20/10.18) I O'Flynn (Cork), R Leonard (Banbridge), E Farrell (Ardee)
- (14.31/10.29) E O'Donovan (Craddockstown), R Knightly (Royal Dublin), S Walsh (Portmarnock)
- (14.42/10.40) J O'Neill (Fota Island), J Greene (Portmarnock), W Hanna (Kilkeel)
- (14.53/10.51) D O'Neill (Carton House), K McDonagh (Royal Dublin), R O'Reilly (Headfort).