SHANE LOWRY will be looking to equal Rory McIlroy’s feat and retain the Radisson-Blue West of Ireland title when the championship gets underway at Rosses Point this morning.
Lowry, who also won the North of Ireland title and is currently the highest-ranked Irish player in the World Amateur standings, will be the man to beat this weekend as he aims to become only the sixth player in the 86-year history of the event to retain the title.
“It’s one of the most important championships of the calendar year, Lowry said.
“I was thrilled to win it last year, but I’m confident I’ll give a good defence.”
Should Lowry continue his form of last year, he should be certain of a place on the Britain and Ireland Walker Cup team to contest the 2009 match in Pennsylvania this September.
He was narrowly denied in 2007 after a strong challenge, but has since matured into the leading Irish amateur with his wins at the West and North of Ireland championships last year.
Good performances at the West of Ireland have laid the foundation for others to make the Walker Cup team too – England’s David Horsey was relatively unknown before he impressed selectors with his form at the 2006 championship.
He subsequently made the Walker Cup team and has since embarked on a professional career.
That tradition has attracted three English players – Michael Hearn, Lee Drew and Jonathan Hurst – and a Scottish challenger, John Miller, among the 144-man field.
Meanwhile, 11 members of the Irish national panel, including Lowry, will be battling for the title.
These include South of Ireland champion Niall Kearney and East of Ireland winner Eoin Arthurs.
Last year’s runner-up at Rosses Point, Dessie Morgan, and 2007 champion Joe Lyons are also among the strong contenders.
Also in the running are 2005 West runner-up, David Finn (Mallow), Pat Murray (Limerick), Conor Doran (Banbridge), Darren Crowe (Dunmurry) and last year’s leading qualifier, Andrew Hogan (Newlands).
Co Louth’s Barry Reddan is once again in the field, some 31 years after his victory in the championship, and will tee off in the company of two Co Sligo teenagers, Steffan O’Hara and Barry Anderson.
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