Sunningdale spearheads start of Open Championship qualifying

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ALL roads lead to Muirfield, though directly in only one case, when 15 different venues in Britain and Ireland stage qualifiers today for next month’s Open Championship in East Lothian.

Sunningdale, which hosts the last of five International Final Qualifiers over 36 holes, offers a straight route into the world’s oldest major but, at 14 Regional Qualifiers, a crack at the Claret Jug is a further stage away.

Two major champions, Jose Maria Olazabal and Michael Campbell, are among the hopefuls at Sunningdale, where the players are chasing just nine spots up for grabs.

The 96-strong field also includes two men who have come close to winning the R&A’s flagship event. Frenchman Thomas Levet was in the four-man play-off won by Ernie Els in 2002, the last time the Open Championship was staged at Muirfield, while Dane Thomas Bjorn was pipped by Ben Curtis at Royal St George’s the following year.

There is also a posse of winners on the European Tour this year, including Dubai Desert Classic champion Stephen Gallacher and Nelson Mandela Championship winner Scott Jamieson, the pair spearheading a Scottish contingent along with Chris Doak.

The latter will be aiming to complete a qualifying double this season, having already come through a similar two-round test at Walton Heath at the end of May to secure his major debut in the US Open at Merion.

For the third year running, Bruntsfield Links is hosting the Scottish Regional Qualifier and among those competing in the 18-hole shoot-out in Edinburgh are former PGA champion Andrew Oldcorn and Walker Cup 
winners Graham Rankin and Michael Stewart. Several other Scots, including last year’s Scottish Boys’ Stroke-Play champion Greig Marchbank, are heading to the outskirts of Newcastle to join the hopefuls at Northumberland Golf Club, while ex-England footballer Jimmy Bullard is in the field at The 
London Club.

Abridge, Buckinghamshire, Clitheroe, East Sussex National, Hankley Common, Little Aston, Luffenham Heath, Mere, Moortown, Remedy Oak and The Island are the other venues offering spots in next Tuesday’s Local Final 
Qualifying at Dunbar, Gullane, Musselburgh and North Berwick.