THE countdown to The Open Championship intensifies today.
Final local qualifying for Royal Lytham in just over a fortnight takes place today over 36 holes at St Annes Old Links, Southport & Ainsdale, West Lancashire and Hillside.
Spectators at Old Links were set for a free show to watch some famous Tour golfers, past and present, in action, as well as a clutch of promising amateurs and club professionals.
Enthusiasts needed an early morning alarm-call to catch the first three-ball at Old Links at 7am as Italy’s Alfredo De Conte. Alex Wrigley and amateur James White got proceedings under way.
A number of Open entries have practised at Old Links in the run-up to today’s action, and host club professional Daniel Webster said they had already complimented course manager Stuart Hogg on the condition of the 18 holes.
Main focus of attention at Old Links is on Chris Wood, seen in some quarters as a future Open champion – he has already had two top-five finishes at The Open at the age of 24, one of them as an amateur.
Another golfer to catch the eye at Old Links is American Patrick Rodgers, the number three amateur in the Royal and Ancient world rankings. He comes from the same Stanford University that produced Tiger Woods and Tom Watson.
He played in the Walker Cup for the United States last year and has already competed against the professionals on the PGA Tour and is due to return to the States next week for the John Deere Classic. A number of top finishes has boosted his position in the world amateur rankings – at one point he rose to number two.
Mark Young gave himself a perfect tonic ahead of today’s qualifier at Old Links with a one-shot victory in the Acorn Trophy at Accrington.
Playing at West Lancashire in final qualifying is Royal Lytham amateur Henry Tomlinson, while Knott End’s Mark Bradley was pegging up at Southport & Ainsdale.
St Annes golfer Paul Eales is trying for a spot at West Lancashire.
Only three places at each venue were available for The Open.
Two players who did not have any worries about taking part at Lytham were Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee and South African Richard Sterne, who clinched places in the Open Championship from a mini money list that had been running on the European Tour and came to a close at the Irish Open.
Golfers like Colin Montgomerie, who have not yet made it, can do so by a top-five finish in either the French Open this week or the Scottish Open next week.
n SEVEN years after winning the US Open Michael Campbell faced a very different task today as 288 players battled for 12 spots in The Open.
With his world ranking having crashed to 910th – he has made only two cuts in his last 20 tournaments – the New Zealander could not even get into the field for last week’s international qualifier at Sunningdale. Instead he is at the West Lancashire course competing in the 36-hole final qualifying event before travelling on to Paris for the French Open starting on Thursday.
Paul Broadhurst, competing at St Annes Old Links, is still joint-holder of a major record with the 63 he shot at St Andrews back in 1990.
Three-time Tour winner Nick Dougherty, who lost his card last season after he survived only one cut in over 30 starts, was playing at Southport and Ainsdale, while Hillside saw ex-Ryder Cup teammates Peter Baker and Mark James playing together.