ANTHONY Keenan will begin the defence of his Harold Ryden title tomorrow with 42 of East Lancashire’s best amateur golfers aiming to dethrone him.

The two-handicapper from Burnley Golf Club triumphed on home soil 12 months ago and will hope to become the first man to defend the trophy since Mark Ashworth in 2013.

A high-quality field stand in his way, though, with no fewer than five other past champions in the field.

Gary Blades, Danny Nutter, Michael Hunt, Anthony Harwood and Nick Uttley all know what it feels like to be the East Lancashire Golf Association champion and will tee it up at Blackburn in the morning.

Keenan shot rounds of 69 and 72 to qualify last year and went on to beat Harwood, Uttley and club-mate Carl Parker on his way to victory.

The top eight players after 36 holes tomorrow will go into Monday night’s quarter-finals with the eventual winner crowned on Wednesday evening.

East Lancs secretary Andy Dean said: “I know Keeno is bang up for defending his title but it will be no easy task.

“Blackburn Golf Club has been in really good condition all year and the next five days should bring some top-quality golf.

“Anthony Harwood will fancy his chances given that he is on home soil but realistically anyone in the field can argue they have a real shot at making the last eight.

“Anything can happen in a 36-hole shootout and the same can be said for the matchplay stages.

“The first at Blackburn is only a short par four but those who take driver risk putting one into the neighbouring allotments.

“There are birdies to be made out there but the four par threes will also be vital, the ninth in particular can be a brute.

“Whatever happens, whoever ends up with the trophy in their hands on Wednesday night will be a worthy winner.”

Harwood leads a 10-strong entry from Blackburn with ELGA team players Paul Swan and Roberto Bonaminio also among the field.

Clitheroe’s Tony Flanagan is out to mark the 25th anniversary of his first appearance in a Harold Ryden final by going one better this time around.

The former Lancashire senior amateur champion was runner-up on the Revidge Road course in 1994 but comes into this year’s Ryden playing some of the best golf of his life.

Another former finalist in with a real shot this week is Accrington’s Chris Nuttall, who lost out to Ashworth in the 2012 final and made the last eight a year ago.

The first tee time in the morning is 7.45am and both the East Lancashire Golf Association and Blackburn Golf Club would like to invite spectators to attend.