Whitson tops qualifiers as sun-kissed West promises to sparkle
 Sunset at Rosses Point where a fascinating Radisson Blu sponsored West of Ireland Championship is taking shape. Picture © Brian Keogh

Sunset at Rosses Point where a fascinating Radisson Blu sponsored West of Ireland Championship is taking shape. Picture © Brian Keogh

Mourne's Reeve Whitson has unfinished business in Sligo after adding a superb 65 to his opening 69 to top the qualifiers in the Radisson Blu-sponsored West of Ireland Amateur Open Championship at Rosses Point.

The 22-year old from Co Down had six birdies on an immaculate card to finish two strokes ahead of Portmarnock’s Geoff Lenehan on eight under 134 and clinch the silver medal.

Mourne's Reeve Whitson on the 7th in the second round. Picture: Thos Caffrey / www.golffile.ie

After throwing away a four up lead with five to play to lose on the 19th in last year’s semi-finals, the talented Co Down man appears determined to go all the way this year.

“I am playing a whole lot better than last year, probably the best I've ever hit it," Whitson said. "Unfinished business? Yes, definitely.

“I was four up with five to go in the semis against Niall Gorey as year and lost on the 19th.

"I will never ever forget that. I am just looking forward to the matchplay and let’s see how it goes.

“I played nicely again from tee to green and made a few birdies early to set up a good round. I birdied the second, and the fourth and had a gimme birdie at the ninth. 

"I missed a 10 inch putt for birdie at the 10th and tried not to let that affect me. Then I got a flyer and overshot the 11th and thought I might let a good round slip like yesterday.

Geoff Lenehan strikes another crisp iron shot. Picture: Thos Caffrey / www.golffile.ie

"But I made a nice birdie with two putts on the 12th to get to four under and another one at the 15th, a four iron to four feet from an awkward lie on the bank."

A closing birdie from 10 feet gave him a 65 and a two round total of eight under 134 and a boost to his confidence.

The cut fell at six over par 148 — the lowest mark since 2007 — after another day of low scoring a brilliant sunshine.

Remarkably, there were three albatross twos made over the first two days including two yesterday. 

Stephen McCarthy of Black Bush had a two at the fifth in 74 on Friday but missed the cut by four shots.

Yesterday, Tom Gandy from the Mount Murray GC on the Isle of Man had a two at the par-five 12th in a second round 68 to qualify with ease on 138. But while Ulsterman Matt Wylie also had a two at the fifth, a 76 for 150 left him out in the cold.

Yet there was a lot more to the first two days of the "West" than Whitson's consistency — he's made just two bogeys in 36 holes — or the inordinate number of albatrosses or the fact that 17 players finished in red figures after 36 holes.

Lenehan has been a consistently impressive performer for some time now and this may be the week he finally turns his potential into a championship win and secures that Irish call up.

Drawn in the fourth quarter, he will not see the likes of Gary McDermott, Richie O'Donovan, Dermot McElroy or Whitson unless he makes it to the final.

The bottom half of the draw is arguably weaker though Jack Hume, Harry Diamond and Gary Hurley are all in Lenehan's firing line should he overcome Conor O’Rourke of Naas in Sunday's first round.

Local boy Steffan O'Hara qualified third with rounds of 68 and 69 on a day when course record holder and first round leader David Brady, 17, followed his opening 64 with a 79 to make the cut on 143.

Gary McDermott, the eternal Co Sligo hopeful, is also through to the matchplay in quietly impressive fashion thanks to a pair of 70s and will be a dangerous opponent for everyone in the field.

Richie O'Donovan appears to be back in the groove. Picture: Thos Caffrey / www.golffile.ie

But there have been other performances worthy of attention.

O'Donovan lost his confidence in his driving and his place on the Irish team in the latter part of last year but will now be feeling confident after surging back to form with rounds of 70 and 68.

He tied for fourth in the qualifying with Royal Dublin's Jeff Hopkins, another player who appears to be back on an upward curve since he teamed up with St Margaret's reaching professional.

"John keeps it simple and that suits me," Hopkins said.

West Waterford star Hurley dropped seven shots in his last seven holes in a  77 on Friday but recovered impressively, dropping just one shot in a 67 to qualify with four shots to spare on two over.

Championship winners such as Robbie Cannon (69), Pat Murray (69) and Joe Lyons (70) all played well when it counted to banish any fears of missing the cut and set up what promises to be a fascinating battle for the first major of the year.

Close to half the 64 who made the cut have the game, the guts or the experience to pull it off.

Radisson Blu sponsored West of Ireland Amateur Open, County Sligo GC (Par 71),

Matchplay draw - Round 1

First quarter

1 07.00 Stephen Coulter (Warrenpoint) v Eanna Griffin (Waterford)

2 07.09 Gary McDermott (Co Sligo) v John Ross Galbraith (Whitehead)

3 07.18 Mark Morrissey (Mount Wolesly) v Des Morgan (Mullingar)

4 07.27 Robert Cannon (Balbriggan) v Ian Lynch (Rosslare)

5 07.36 Daniel Holland (Castle) v Declan Reidy (Co Sligo) 

6 07.45 Richard O’Donovan (Lucan) v Kieran Lovelock (Hindhead, UK)

7 07.54 Shaun Carter (Stackstown) v Alex Gleeson (Castle)

8 08.03 Dermot McElroy (Ballymena) v Keith Crowley (Fota Island)
 

Second quarter

9 08.12 Barry Anderson (The Royal Dublin) v Barry Daly (Edmondstown)

10 08.21 Steffan O’Hara (Co Sligo) v Sean Maloney (Dunmurry Springs)

11 08.30 Colin Fairweather (Knock) v Richard Bridges (Stackstown)

12 08.39 Rory McNamara (Headfort) v Jake Whelan (Newlands)

13 08.48 Tom Gandy (Rowmany, IoM) v Eoghan Murphy (Cork) 

14 08.57 Jeff Hopkins (The Royal Dublin) v Greg Mungovan (Headfort)

15 09.06 John Hickey (Cork) v Eddie McCormack (Galway)

16 09.15 Reeve Whitson (Mourne) v Jonathan Breen (Knock) 
 

Third quarter

17 09.24 Jack Hume (Naas) v Michael Buggy (Castlecomer) 

18 09.33 Matthew McClean (Balmoral) v Stephen Walsh (Portmarnock)

19 09.42 Sean Flanagan (Co Sligo) v Gary Collins (Rosslare)

20 09.51 Darragh Coghlan (Portmarnock) v Kevin Stack (Dungarvan)

21 10.00 Harry Diamond (Belvoir Park) v Kieran McCarthy (Castlemartyr) 

22 10.09 Caolan Rafferty (Greenore) v Sean Ryan (The Royal Dublin)

23 10.18 Stuart Grehan (Tullamore) v Shaun O’Connor (Luttrellstown Castle)

24 10.27 Colm Campbell (Warrenpoint) v Stephen Loftus (Lahinch)
 

Fourth quarter

25 10.36 Geoff Lenehan (Portmarnock) v Conor O’Rourke (Naas)

26 10.45 David Brady (Co Sligo) v John Greene (Portmarnock) 

27 10.54 Eugene Smith (Ardee) v Joe Lyons (Galway)

28 11.03 David Sutton (Lurgan) v Pat Murray (Limerick) 

29 11.12 Gary Hurley (West Waterford) v Conor Doran (Banbridge)

30 11.21 Gareth Bohill (Co Louth) v Mark Shanahan (Castlemartyr) 

31 11.30 Rory Leonard (Banbridge) v William Hanna (Warrenpoint) 

32 11.39 Simon Bryan (Delgany) v James Fox (Portmarnock).
 

After 36 holes

Qualifiers

134 Reeve Whitson (Mourne) 69 65 (Leading qualifier)

136 Geoff Lenehan (Portmarnock) 66 70

137 Steffan O'Hara (Co. Sligo) 68 69

138 Jeff Hopkins (The Royal Dublin) 72 66, Richard O'Donovan (Lucan) 70 68

139 Tom Gandy (Mount Murray) 71 68, Darragh Coghlan (Portmarnock) 70 69, David Sutton (Lurgan) 70 69, Dermot McElroy (Ballymena) 70 69, Jack Hume (Naas) 66 73

140 Rory Leonard (Banbridge) 70 70, Daniel Holland (Castle) 70 70, Stephen Coulter (Warrenpoint) 70 70, Gary McDermott (Co. Sligo) 70 70, Simon Bryan (Delgany) 69 71

141 Colm Campbell (Warrenpoint) 70 71, Barry Anderson (The Royal Dublin) 69 72

142 Sean Flanagan (Co. Sligo) 72 70, Colin Fairweather (Knock) 71 71, Caolan Rafferty (Greenore) 70 72, Harry Diamond (Belvoir Park) 70 72, Eugene Smith (Ardee) 68 74

143 Gareth Bohill (Co. Louth) 74 69, Mark Morrissey (Mount Wolseley) 71 72, Shaun Carter (Stackstown) 70 73, David Brady (Co. Sligo) 64 79

144 Gary Hurley (West Waterford) 77 67, Robert Cannon (Balbriggan) 75 69, Matthew McClean (Balmoral) 74 70, John Hickey (Cork) 74 70, Eddie McCormack (Galway) 74 70, Rory McNamara (Headfort) 73 71, Stuart Grehan (Tullamore) 72 72, Stephen Walsh (Portmarnock) 72 72, John Greene (Portmarnock) 72 72, Alex Gleeson (Castle) 71 73, Des Morgan (Mullingar) 71 73, Mark Shanahan (Castlemartyr) 69 75

145 Sean Ryan (The Royal Dublin) 74 71, Richard Bridges (Stackstown) 73 72, Barry Daly (Edmondstown) 73 72, Stephen Loftus (Lahinch) 70 75, James Fox (Portmarnock) 69 76, Eanna Griffin (Waterford) 69 76

146 Declan Reidy (Co. Sligo) 78 68, Pat Murray (Limerick) 77 69, Kevin Stack (Dungarvan) 74 72, Eoghan Murphy (Cork) 74 72, Greg Mungovan (Headfort) 74 72, Gary Collins (Rosslare) 73 73

147 Joe Lyons (Galway) 77 70, Kieran Lovelock (Hindhead) 75 72, John-ross Galbraith (Whitehead) 75 72, William Hanna (Warrenpoint) 74 73, Shaun O'Connor (Luttrellstown Castle) 74 73, Sean Maloney (Dunmurry Springs) 73 74, Jake Whelan (Newlands) 73 74, Kieran McCarthy (Castlemartyr) 72 75, Connor Doran (Banbridge) 72 75

148 Ian Lynch (Rosslare) 77 71, Keith Crowley (Fota Island) 76 72, Conor O'Rourke (Naas) 75 73, Michael Buggy (Castlecomer) 75 73, Jonathan Breen (Knock) 71 77

Non Qualifiers

149 Ruairi Kennelly (Portmarnock) 76 73, Daryll Callister (Mount Murray) 76 73, Stephen Brady (Co. Sligo) 76 73, Ronan O'Reilly (Headfort) 76 73, Chris Carroll (Shandon Park) 76 73, Ian O'Flynn (Cork) 75 74, Ronan Mullarney (Galway) 75 74, Jonathan Yates (Naas) 75 74, Serryth Heavey (Co. Sligo) 75 74, William Russell (Clandeboye) 74 75, Eoin Arthurs (Forrest Little.) 74 75, Jordan Hood (Galgorm Castle) 74 75, Paul Flynn (Tramore) 74 75, Ryan Gribben (Warrenpoint) 74 75, Gerard Dunne (Co. Louth) 74 75

150 Evan Farrell (Ardee) 76 74, Thomas O'Connor (Athlone) 75 75, Kealan Quigg (City of Derry) 75 75, Shane McGlynn (Carton House) 75 75, Matt Wylie () 74 76, Daniel Brennan (Shannon) 73 77, Stephen Healy (Claremorris) 71 79

151 Damien McCusker (Moyola Park) 78 73, Alan Thomas (Dungarvan) 77 74, Enda Cradock (Gort) 76 75, James McVicker (Knock) 76 75, Kelan McDonagh (The Royal Dublin) 75 76, Tiarnan McLarnon (Massereene) 73 78, Sean Barry (Fota Island) 72 79

152 Noel Crawford (Mourne) 79 73, Jamie Sutherland (Galgorm Castle) 78 74, Niall Foley (Island) 76 76, Declan O'Neill (Carton House) 76 76, David Barry (Castlemartyr) 75 77, Ian Kettyle (Rathmore) 75 77, Matthew Kane (Whitehead) 75 77, Cian Geraghty (Laytown & Bettystown) 74 78, Stephen McCarthy (Black Bush) 74 78

153 Aidan Kelly (The Heritage) 81 72, Devin Morley (Oughterard) 79 74, Paul Coughlan (Moate) 79 74, Jonathan Doherty (Ballina) 78 75, Edward O'Keeffe (Corrstown) 76 77, Richard Knightly (The Royal Dublin) 75 78

154 Tony Cleary (Dromoland) 80 74, Seamus Cullen (Slieve Russell) 78 76

155 Ben Best (Rathmore) 80 75, Jason Rackard (Bunclody) 78 77, Edward Ryan (Lucan) 78 77, Eoghan O'Donovan (Craddockstown) 78 77, Gerard Lawlor (Newbridge) 77 78, Brian O'Reilly (Athenry) 75 80

156 Theo Coffey (Slieve Russell) 81 75, Gavin McKenna (Fortwilliam) 78 78, Jonathan Gourley (Shandon Park) 75 81

157 Timmy Jordan (Dungannon) 79 78, James McLaughlin (Portumna) 79 78, Robbie Pierse (Grange) 77 80

158 Shane Hogan (Nenagh) 77 81

159 Ciaran McKenna (Mallow) 79 80

160 Alan Duffy (Royal Tara) 81 79, Chris Drumm (The Royal Dublin) 81 79

162 Daniel O'Connor (Athlone) 83 79, Patrick Neville (Bearna) 80 82

165 Sean Moran (Carton House) 87 78

WD/NR John O'Neill (Fota Island) NR 77, Michael Sinclair (Knock) 74 WD, Chris Watt (Silverwood) 82 WD