The first major of the year promises to be a cracker with four top guns lining up for what could be a memorable final day at Rosses Point. Who will win? Any of the four would be a worthy champion.
Mourne’s Reeve Whitson broke the hearts of the Connacht faithful with an impressive 5 and 3 win over local hero Steffan O’Hara to cruise into today’s semi-finals of the Radisson Blu sponsored West of Ireland Amateur Open at a sun-kissed County Sligo.
But after throwing away a big lead to lose on the 19th in the semi-finals last year, the 22-year old from Newcastle was proud of the way he focussed in front of the huge crowd and clinched a last four showdown with Irish Amateur Open champion Robbie Cannon.
“I’m just delighted to go through because this is where I got to last year, so I am looking forward to having a chance to improve on that,” said Whitson, who beat Royal Dublin’s Jeff Hopkins 3 and 1 before holing a 40 footer on the 14th to set up a comfortable win over Co Sligo favourite O’Hara.
“I felt I concentrated really well with all that was going on around me and I was really well focussed. I tried to keep myself in that focussed state and kept hitting good shots.”
Cannon, 35, beat the promising John Ross Galbraith of Whitehead by 4 and 2 in the morning before crushing Lucan’s Richard O’Donovan — who had holed an outrageous 60 footer for birdie on the 19th to beat Ballymena's Dermot McElroy in the morning— by 5 and 4.
"I was playing really well coming in here and hit the ball really well in the Rosapenna Scratch Cup had a lot of lip outs so I knew I was playing really well," said the Dubliner, who is a professional strength and conditioning coach.
"I know where my golf ball is going and I’m in good form. I'm must happy to be here and looking forward to tomorrow. Points to prove? Not at all. I am much more mature as a golfer at this stage. I am just really enjoying my golf."
With an Irish Amateur Open and a South of Ireland title already on his CV, Cannon believes the pressure is off him as he has two Irish ‘majors’ and the other semi-finalists have yet to win a big championship on home soil.
"I have nothing to lose tomorrow," said the last surviving career amateur in the field. "I have got my championships. The pressure is on the other guys tomorrow because I don't think they have any. It will be a good match with Reeve but I won’t worry about him, I’ll just play my own game."
While Whitson admits that an Irish “major” would be special, he’s got the experience of winning the illustrious Spanish Amateur Open matchplay last year and he’s not getting distracted.
“To win one of the Irish events would be as big as winning in Spain,” said Whitson. “I’ll just go out and play golf and see what happens. They are all tough matches.”
West Waterford's Gary Hurley needed just 25 holes to blast his way into the last four, where he will face Naas’ Jack Hume in a repeat of their last 16 clash 12 months ago, when Hume won on the 22nd in arctic conditions.
After crushing Portmarnock's James Fox 7 and 5 and Galway's Joe Lyons 8 and 6, Hurley said: “It was so cold you could hardly feel your hands. Hopefully it will be warmer tomorrow. It would be great to win a championship.”
Lyons, winner of the West in 2007, had high hopes of another big week when he played superbly to beat the promising Conor O’Rourke of Naas on the 18th in the morning.
But Hurley proved to be a step too far as he lost the first to a bogey, the second to a chip-in birdie and the third to an eagle three.
“I three-putted five and six trying to force it and went five down and that was it,” said Lyons, glancing over at his tormentor. “He will take a bit of beating.”
Hume beat Dungarvan’s Kevin Stack 5 and 4 before being forced to hole clutch par putts at the 14th, 15th and 16th to see off the combative Warrenpoint man Colm Campbell 3 and 1 in the quarter-finals.
“I gave him a couple of holes early on with a couple of three-putts and against players of Jack’s quality, you can’t do that,” Campbell said, adding: “I handed him 11 to go four down and then I am scratching my head.
“I won 12 and 13 to get back to two and thought I had a chance but he holed a couple of clutch putts coming in, so fair play to him. As I said to him there, I hope he goes on and wins it.”
Winner of all four Boys provincial titles in 2010, 20-year old Hume missed out on a play-off by a shot in last year’s Irish Amateur Open, just a week after losing a play-off for the Lytham Trophy.
“You learn from those situations hopefully those experiences will stand to me tomorrow,” Hume said.
He certainly didn't panic against Campbell though he was plainly relieved to grind out the victory.
"I was four up through 11. He birdied 12 and then I three putted 13 from nowhere to go back to two up," he said. "But I was really pleased with the way I holed those putts down the last few holes to close out the match on 14, 15 and 16. It was a grind at the end but I got the win."
Radisson Blu sponsored West of Ireland Amateur Open, Co Sligo GC
Final — 1.30pm
(8.0) Robert Cannon (Balbriggan) v Reeve Whitson (Mourne)
(8.15) Jack Hume (Naas) v Gary Hurley (West Waterford)
Robert Cannon (Balbriggan) bt Richard O’Donovan (Lucan) 5/4
Reeve Whitson (Mourne) bt Steffan O’Hara (Co Sligo) 5/3
Jack Hume (Naas) bt Colm Campbell (Warrenpoint) 3/1
Gary Hurley (West Waterford) bt Joe Lyons (Galway) 8/6
Robert Cannon (Balbriggan) bt John Ross Galbraith (Whitehead) 4 and 2
Richard O’Donovan (Lucan) bt Dermot McElroy (Ballymena) 19th
Steffan O’Hara (Co Sligo) bt Richard Bridges (Stackstown) 2/1
Reeve Whitson (Mourne) bt Jeff Hopkins (The Royal Dublin) 3/1
Jack Hume (Naas) bt Kevin Stack (Dungarvan) 5/4
Colm Campbell (Warrenpoint) bt Harry Diamond (Belvoir Park) 2/1
Joe Lyons (Galway) bt Conor O’Rourke (Naas) 1 hole
Gary Hurley (West Waterford) bt James Fox (Portmarnock) 7 and 5