The tussle for the men's title in the Sagicor Barbados Open Golf Championships is shaping to be the most interesting in years.
Several low handicap players are seeking to dethrone defending champion Carlsen Leacock as well as upstage 12-time winner James Johnson when the Championships tee-off on Friday morning at Royal Westmoreland.
Among them are Jamaican champion Ian Facey, a 22 year-old who represented his country at the Latin American championships, and visiting American twin brothers Roland and York Beights from Virginia.
The Beights, both 18, are regarded as highly skilled and rising seniors on the southern American circuit and are making their first appearance in Barbados after recently contesting a major tournament in Bermuda.
Top Barbados national players Julian Jordan , a two-time champion, Simon Proverbs and Scott Stollmeyer as well as rising juniors Iz Hustler and Xzavier Wiggins and Trinidadians Sam Avey, Deryck Gonsalves and Brian Lara are also regarded as capable contenders.
But defending champion Leacock, a 58 year-old remarkable ball-striker, says he is not worried and ready to fight off all comers.
“I am ready … it is a good field but I am focussing on beating the course and if I do that I think I will win . I would like to shoot even par or better over the three days,” said Leacock.
If he can successfully defend his title it would be a late but fitting birthday present for Leacock as he celebrated the milestone earlier this month and is the oldest contender in the championship flight, tussling with players half his age.
Perrenial Barbados champion, Johnson missed the tournament last year with an injured wrist and may have to produce some magic this year as he is battling a flu virus that has affected his preparation for this big weekend.
“I have not been able to prepare the way I usually do ...this virus goes all the way back to the Caribbean championships and I have been under doctors care. But I am still going out to fight,” said Johnson.
Johnson said he was impressed with the talent in the men's championship flight , calling it a good group of competitive players, and he was looking to give it his best shot.
Among the women, defending champion Leiza Munn-Blakeley, a former Jamaica player, is favoured to retain her title but is expected to be challenged by OECS champion, Kimesha Anthony.
Anthony, a previous winner of the Barbados Open and the Trinidad Open, is a talented golfer who played on the US college circuit and knows her way around the course.
Barbados national juniors Alyssa Inniss-Gittens, who represented the island at the Caribbean championships, and Emily Odwin, an improving 13 year-old who won her division at the Caribbean junior championships, are expected to keep some pressure on their more experienced rivals over the 54 holes.
All three days (54 holes) of the championship flights for both men and women will be played at the Royal Westmoreland course , along with the senior men (over 50 years) where Ivan Codrington is defending his title against top Barbados players such as Robert Piggott and Ricky Skeete and experienced contenders in Bill Weir and Igna Smart and Trinidadians Wayne Baptiste and Ganess Kissoon.
Competition in the men's first flight (players with 10-18 handicaps) will be played at the Barbados Golf Club and Apes Hill while the men's second flight (19-24 handicap) will be played under the Stableford format, also at the same two courses.
“We are happy to have Sagicor as the new sponsor of the Barbados Open and we are ready for an exciting weekend of golf. We have a quality field to test our best players and we are expecting competitive play at all three courses,” said Trevor Tasker, President of the Barbados Golf Association.
The Barbados Open, now in its 33rd year, is the biggest tournament on the BGA's calendar and attracts players from the Caribbean, North America and Europe in seven divisions.
By Bernard Babb
Defending champion Carlsen Leacock is ready to defend his Sagicor Barbados Open title.
James Johnson says he will be fighting in the Sagicor Barbados Open.
Leiza Munn-Blakeley is the defending women's champion.
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