SUNINGDALE, England (June 26, 2012) -- England’s James Morrison can look forward to his first appearance at The Open Championship after leading the qualifiers at the 36-hole International Final Qualifying — Europe event over the Old and New courses at Sunningdale.
Morrison put together rounds of 63 and 68 for an eight-under-par total of 131 and a two shot victory over compatriot, Sam Walker, who had to endure a 500 mile dash from the Scottish Highlands before carding rounds of 68 and 65 to get into the field for The Open on six-under-par 133.
Welshman, Jamie Donaldson, fired a course record equalling 62 on the New course to share third place with Spain’s Alejandro Canizares, Australia’s Marcus Fraser and Englishmen, Richard Finch, Ross Fisher and Matthew Baldwin on five under par 134.
The final places in the field for the 141st Open Championship went to Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen and England’s Lee Slattery who finished on four-under-par 135 in regulation play and then survived the subsequent sudden-death play-off against Oliver Fisher, Oscar Floren and Alastair Forsyth. Englishman, Fisher, and Floren from Sweden both went out on the first extra hole. Olesen birdied the second extra hole to book his place at The Open before Forsyth missed from three feet on the third extra hole to allow his English rival through.
Morrison went out at 6.48 am on the New course in what was the third group on the golf course and quickly put his name on the top of the leaderboard with a six-under-par 63 which included seven birdies and just one dropped shot at the 446-yard par-4 11th. After lunch he raced to the turn in three-under-par 33 on the Old Course and then came home in level par 35 for a two-under-par 68 which confirmed his place at Royal Lytham & St Annes on July 19-22.
“This means a lot to me,” said the 26-year-old from Chertsey whose wife, Jessica, gave birth to their first child, Finley, just 12 days ago.
“Last year I bogeyed the last two holes to miss out by just one shot so there was a few anxious moments coming down the stretch but I played solid and holed some good putts for pars.
“I’m really looking forward to making my debut in The Open,” he added. “I remember when I was a kid coming home from school at 4.30 and watching it on TV so it will be great to be a part of it.”
Sam Walker spent the previous day winning a play-off at the rain-shortened Scottish Hydro Challenge at Macdonald Spey Valley Golf Club in the Scottish Highlands but then flew back to Birmingham before setting out for Sunningdale at 4.00am this morning.
He opened with a 68 on the New course but then carded a 65 on the Old which included six birdies and an eagle on the 503-yard par-5 14th hole. It was enough to move him up to second behind Donaldson and to give him his first start in The Open Championship.
“I played in the 2007 US Open Championship at Oakmont but this will be the first time I have ever played in The Open,” said the 34 year-old Englishman whose father, Tim, was a semi-professional footballer.
“To be honest I was so tired I don’t know how I did it. I felt a bit like a robot. I just put my head down and concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other and it seemed to work. It has been a massive 24 hours for me.”
Welshman Jamie Donaldson is another player who has had a child recently. His son, Max, was born three months ago but that did not stop the 36 year-old from Tredegar from adding a seven under par 62 on the New course to his opening 72 on the Old to move from 51st up into third place on the leaderboard.
The 62 equalled the score recorded by Graeme Storm while qualifying for The Open in 2009 and was matched Colin Montgomerie 12 months later.
Donaldson’s run started with a birdie on the 409-yard 3rd hole. He also fired birdies of the 6th, 8th and 9th before completing a flawless round with further birdies on the 12th, 15th and 16th.
“I played terrible this morning but this afternoon was much better,” said the man who lost out in a play-off in this event two years ago. “I thought about pulling out at lunch but I haven’t played much golf since Max was born so I decided to go out again and see if I could find some form.”
Ryder Cup player, Ross Fisher, finished second behind James Heath at the 2004 Lytham Trophy and he can look forward to another trip to the famous Lancashire course after putting together rounds of 64 and 70 which will give him his sixth successive appearance in the golf’s oldest Major.
Fisher’s best finish to date came in 2009 at Turnberry where he challenged for a while before dropping into a share 13th place behind Stewart Cink but he can look forward to another chance at winning the Claret Jug.
The same cannot be said for some of the biggest names in the Sunningdale field.
Italy’s Matteo Manassero, the top-ranked player in the field on the Official World Golf Ranking, carded two rounds of 68 to miss the play-off by one shot. He was joined on three-under-par 136 by 2010 Ryder Cup captain, Colin Montgomerie, who missed out after scoring 66 and 70, while his successor, Jose Maria Olazabal, was another casualty, having opened promisingly with a 67 on the New course but then faltering with a 71 on the Old.
“It’s disappointing,” said the 46 year-old Spaniard, who finished third in the 1992 Open Championship at Muirfield and then tied third 13 years later at St Andrews.
“I had it going but then hit a couple of loose shots coming home.
“That the story of my game at the moment,” he added. “I see sparks of good play but I’m just not consistent enough. I’m letting too many shots leak away.”
The only route Manassero, Montgomerie and Olazabal now have into The Open is by finishing as the leading non-exempt player within the top five at either the Alstrom Open de France at Golf National, Paris, on July 5-8 or the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Castle Stuart, Inverness, the following weekend.