Twelve secure their places at Hoylake Open

Warrington Guardian: Paul Dunne qualifies for The Open Championship Paul Dunne qualifies for The Open Championship

TWELVE players have secured their places at The Open Championship in Hoylake at the conclusion of Final Qualifying at Sunningdale, Gailes Links, Woburn and Hillside.

At Sunningdale, England's Matthew Southgate, Chris Rodgers and South Korea's Byeong-Hun An qualified.

At Gailes Links, Scottish golfers Marc Warren, Jamie McLeary and Paul McKechnie earned their passage to The Open.

At Woburn, the places went to amateur Paul Dunne of Ireland, and England’s Oliver Fisher and Rhys Enoch. At Hillside the three qualifers were John Singleton and Christopher Hanson of England and Oscar Floren of Sweden.

Sunningdale proved the most testing of the four qualifying venues where only two players managed to break par.

A total of 288 players competed for 12 places at The Open, which will be played from July 17-20 at Royal Liverpool.

Southgate carded an opening one-over 70 before charging to the top of the leaderboard with a closing 64 for a four-under-par 134 winning aggregate.

The 25-year-old finished one stroke ahead of An, who shot 69, 66 for a 135 total.

"It's amazing, I must have tried to qualify for The Open 10 times since I got down to scratch as an amateur," said Southgate, whose final round contained six birdies and just the one dropped shot at the 11th.

He added: "I have been working hard with my coach, my preparation has been good and I’m just delighted it all came together."

An was the only other player at Sunningdale to break par. Despite starting his second round with a bogey, the former US Amateur champion (2009) rallied with four birdies and no dropped shots.

The 22-year-old said: "I played steady. It's the sort of course you need to have a game plan and I stuck to it, you have to be patient".

Instead of playing on the Challenge Tour in Switzerland in a couple of weeks, An will now return to England to compete in his fourth Major.

In 2010 he played in The Open at St Andrews, The Masters and the US Open after his US Amateur success.

Rodgers had an agonising wait before realising his dream of playing in The Open for the first time. Despite bogeying the final hole, the London professional shot 67, 72 for a one-over-par 139 to secure the third and final spot.

He said: "It's a dream come true. I can really look forward to Hoylake and see what happens".

Former World Cup winner Marc Warren came with a late surge to move ahead of long-time leader Jamie McLeary for top spot at Gailes Links in Ayrshire.

Helped by a course-record 63 in the morning, McLeary set a formidable target of seven-under on a course that became more and more fiery in the glorious sunny conditions.

Scotland’s Warren, a two-time European Tour winner, had set out in the afternoon six shots off the pace in his bid to secure a second successive Open appearance.

But a 64, coupled with a 72 from McLeary, who got off to a shaky start in his second round saw the 33-year-old Glaswegian finish in top spot by two shots on nine-under 133.

"I was really confident coming in here as it’s a course I play a lot,” said Warren after signing off in style in the afternoon by holing from a greenside bunker for a birdie.

"It means a lot to get back into The Open. Last year was my first taste of it. But I was frustrated as I was close to making the cut and you want another shot at it."

McLeary, also 33 and from Bonnyrigg in Midlothian, will be making his Open debut, as will former PGA EuroPro Tour number one Paul McKechnie, who closed with a 67.

The 37-year-old secured the last spot up for grabs after beating Welshman Rhys Davies (71) with a birdie at the first play-off hole after they finished tied on three-under.

“To have achieved this after being 40 to the bend in the morning is incredible," admitted McKechnie, who is attached to the Braid Hills Golf Centre in Edinburgh.

At Woburn, Irish amateur Paul Dunne survived a huge scare before he came through to win Final Qualifying over the Marquess course.

The 22-year-old from Greystones arrived on the first tee with just one minute to spare ahead of his opening round but managed to retain his composure and post two rounds of 67 to claim a three-shot victory on 10-under 134.

"It gave me a bit of a fright,” admitted the Irish International who was part of the winning European collegiate team at last week’s Palmer Cup at Walton Heath.

"I misjudged the time it would take me to get from the clubhouse out to the 10th tee but fortunately I managed to hit my opening tee shot straight down the middle.

"This is the first time I have ever played in an event like this so I wasn't sure what would be a good score. I just decided to press and see what happened and it turned out very well."

Dunne finished three shots ahead of Oliver Fisher, who also opened with a five-under 67, then secured second with a two-under 70.

He said: "I played steady golf all day. Tee to green I was very good but I didn’t hole quite as many putts as I would have liked."

The last spot was decided in dramatic fashion after English Amateur Tomasz Anderson, Australia's Jack Wilson and Rhys Enoch from Wales all tied for third on six-under-par 138.

The trio went down the first extra-hole where Enoch overshot the green with his approach from behind a tree but then holed a 25-foot downhill pitch for a winning birdie three.

He said: "It's strange I pitched poorly all day but as soon as I got to my ball I had a feeling something strange was going to happen.

"All golfers want to play in The Open but never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d get into the Championship that way. It’s all a bit surreal."

Birkenhead factory worker John Singleton, Challenge Tour players, Chris Hanson from Yorkshire and Oscar Floren, qualified at Hillside after a four-man play-off when Yorkshire amateur Nick Marsh couldn't match par at the second extra hole.

Marsh - in the last match on course - made a birdie on a final hole for a second successive 69 to make it into the four-man play-off on six-under-par 138.

First time around the quartet all made par but Marsh found a bunker off the tee at the second and failed to make par and his dream was over.

Singleton, who kept his PGA status but also works in a resin factory, was absolutely delighted to have made it to Royal Liverpool, which is only five minutes from his Wallasey home. He added a best of the afternoon 66 to his opening 72.

He said: "It will be amazing to play in The Open, and I expect I’ll have a lot of support from my friends and family".

As for Hanson, he has finally made it to The Open after he too carded a pair of 69s.

He said: "I've reached final qualifying several times before but the nearest I came was here (Hillside) a few years ago when I missed out by three strokes. It's unbelievable, a dream come true and I'm delighted."

Floren, who added a 71 to his opening 67, has played in The Open twice, St Andrews in 2005 and last year at Muirfield.

He said: "I've been struggling a bit on the Challenge Tour to be honest. But I played well today and hopefully I can carry it into this week's tournament in Germany and on to Hoylake."

The next events in The Open Qualifying Series, which comprises 14 events in nine countries on five continents, are the Greenbrier Classic on the PGA Tour and the Alstom Open de France on the European Tour from July 3-6. For more information visit www.TheOpen.com.

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