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Amateur Championship:
Scots will mount strong challenge

THERE will be no successful defence of the Amateur Championship, which starts at Royal County Down in Northern Ireland today. For Sergio Garcia, the outstanding young Spaniard who beat Craig Williams, of Wales, by 7 and 6 in last year's final at Muirfield, is already climbing the professional ladder.

So who will take over his mantle? With a massive field of 288, that is an almost impossible question to answer. As usual the foreign challenge will be formidable and in this respect Tino Schuster, the German who won the Lytham Trophy and finished fourth in the Brabazon after a final 67, Mikko Ilonen, of Finland, and Trevor Immelman, of South Africa, beaten finalist two years ago, could all be prominent.

What about the Englishmen, the Irishmen and the Scotsmen - not forgetting a smattering of Welsh talent? The Scots look particularly strong, with Walker Cup squad members Lorne Kelly, Graham Rankin, David Patrick and past winner Craig Watson all capable of lifting the big prize next Saturday. Patrick won the St Andrews Links Trophy in a howling gale recently, so he will not be too bothered about a bit of a blow at County Down.

The Irish will enjoy being on home soil. Garth McGimpsey, who won this title at Royal Dornoch 14 years ago, is now 43 but proved he is still a battler by finishing fifth in the St Andrews Links despite the atrocious weather. He cannot be ruled out. Jodi Flanagan is there, too, along with Walker Cup squad member Noel Fox, from Portmarnock.

Craig Williams, from Creigiau, who did so well to reach last year's final, will be hoping to keep the Welsh flag flying again, while former Daily Telegraph/Center Parcs junior finalist Oliver Pughe, of Oswestry, and Alex Smith, from Pyle & Kenfig, have a chance to make their mark.

The English challenge is led by Gary Wolstenholme, who has started the season in such sparkling form. He has already won the Dunan Putter and Berkhamsted Trophy, finished second in the West of England Open, third in the Hampshire Hog and has been in the top 10 of the Berkshire and Brabazon. That is quite a record, especially considering that he also managed to win the Amateur Championship at Ganton in 1991.

Other England internationals in with a real chance are Philip Rowe, of West Cornwall, Colin Edwards, of Bath, Simon Dyson, of Sand Moor, and Mark Sanders, of Bristol & Clifton, who won the English Amateur title at Woodhall Spa last year.

Whoever wins the prize will receive an automatic invitation to play in the US Masters at Augusta next year.

Bill Meredith -Electronic Telegraph