THREE-TIMES major winner Vijay Singh spearheads the line-up in one event as Colin Montgomerie bids to overcome jetlag in another when Final Qualifying for the 144th Open Championship takes place around Britain today.
It’s the second year of the event being played on a regional basis rather than locally and it must be strange for the likes of Ladybank, Lundin, Leven and Scotscraig not to be involved in the build-up to a St Andrews Open.
It worked well last year, though, especially from a Scots perspective at Glasgow Gailes as Marc Warren, Jamie McLeary and Paul McKechnie made it a home 1-2-3. Just three spots are up for grabs again there today and also at Hillside, Royal Cinque Ports and Woburn.
Without doubt, Singh is the star attraction in Ayrshire, The Fijian is now 52, but has the outstanding CV among the 92 hopefuls. It, after all, contains, two US PGA Championships and a Masters as well as more than 60 professional victories worldwide.
His best Open Championship performance came in 2003, finishing joint second behind American Ben Curtis at Royal St George’s, but, as recently as three years ago ,he was in the top 10 at Royal Lytham as Ernie Els lifted his second Claret Jug.
Warren is exempt this time around and isn’t involved in today’s 36-hole shootout, hence why he was able to relax and enjoy a visit to Wimbledon yesterday before turning his attention to the French Open, starting on Thursday.
Both McLeary and McKechnie are back again, though, and will be hoping for a repeat of their heroics from 12 months ago. McLeary did his good work then in the morning with a course-record 63; McKechnie shone in the afternoon before beating Welshman Rhys Davies in a play-off.
Andrew McArthur, the world No 269, is the highest-ranked home hopeful on this occasion, which might be something of a surprise to some given that European Tour regulars such as Scott Jamieson and Craig Lee are also in the line-up. McArthur, however, has made the most of some of his starts on the main circuit in the opening half of the season and, having won the Scottish Amateur Championship at neighbouring Western Gailes in 2002 – he beat Jamieson in the final – the Glaswegian has eye-catching links form in this neck of the woods.
So, too, has Elliot Saltman, who qualified for the 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry from the same venue, where there is a particularly strong Scottish amateur contingent on this occasion. Indeed, it would be no surprise if one of those coveted spots was claimed by either Grant Forrest, Greig Marchbank, Jack McDonald or Ewen Ferguson as all four are heading into this test in good form.
Edinburgh-born Davies, a winner on the Challenge Tour this season, is back trying to atone for last year’s disappointment while other notable contenders – making them threats to another Scottish 1-2-3 – include Spaniard Carlos Del Moral, Irishman Kevin Phelan and American Daniel Im.
Two years ago, Montgomerie was unsuccessful at Gullane after dashing back across the Atlantic to try his luck at this stage. He’s in the Woburn field this time and is in exactly the same position, having jumped on a plane from Los Angeles to London on Sunday night straight after finishing second in the US Senior Open. It’s asking a lot, but the 52-year-old is playing well and he’ll leave nothing in the locker room in his bid to be playing in another Open at St Andrews, where he finished runner-up to Tiger Woods a decade ago.
His rivals at the Buckinghamshire venue include two-times US Open champion Retief Goosen, Australian duo Richard Green and Nick O’Hern, Dane Thorbjorn Olesen, American John Hahn and a fellow Scot in Chris Doak.
Fresh from becoming the SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge champion, Morecambe man Jack Senior joins the hopefuls at Hillside in Lancashire. Also throwing the dice there are Tom Lewis and Matthew Fitzpatrick, two former Silver Medal winners as leading amateurs in the world’s oldest major. A handful of Scots at Hillside include former PGA champion Scott Drummond and James Ross, who has come off the reserve list.
Former Cannes Open winner Raymond Russell is flying the Saltire at Royal Cinque Ports, where the line-up is headed by Englishman Chris Paisley, who recorded his career-best performance when finishing third in the BMW International Open on Sunday.
Meanwhile, six players have earned places in the St Andrews field in a fortnight’s time as the highest-ranked non-exempt players on the world rankings. They are American duo Harris English and Daniel Berger, Italy’s Francesco Molinari, Matt Jones from Australia, South African Tim Clark and Swede David Lingmerth.