Martin Laird is back in the world’s top 100 for the first time in more than three years and also into his first Open Championship since 2013 after continuing his resurgence with a third-place finish in the Quicken Loans National.
While a tad disappointed to miss out on a chance to claim a fourth victory on the PGA Tour after taking a bogey at the last as he tried to force his way into a play-off at TPC Potomac in Maryland, the consolations will surely have helped make up for that.
The 34-year-old had slipped to 234th after the same event 12 months ago, but is up to 87th in the latest rankings – his highest position since sitting 92nd early in 2014 – after climbing 24 spots on the back of his fifth top ten of the US circuit’s wraparound season.
As he battled to hold on to his PGA Tour card last season, Laird had to turn down an invitation for the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open and also missed out on the Open Championship, but he now has both of those events on this year’s summer schedule.
He had already accepted a sponsor’s spot in next week’s Scottish Open at Dundonald Links and that home assignment will be followed by a trip to Royal Birkdale after securing one of four spots up for grabs in the season’s third major through the Quicken Loans National.
“To get myself back into The Open is great,” said Laird, who last played in the event at Muirfield four years ago, finishing joint 44th behind Phil Mickelson. “The Open was the golf tournament growing up that I used to go and watch with my dad and dreamed of playing in.
“When Nick Price won at Turnberry in 1994, I was in the stands behind 17 when he holed about a 50-foot birdie putt. I will always remember that and, ever since then, having a chance to play in one is always special.
“I’ve been lucky to play in a few (this will be his sixth appearance) and to make this one is special and I’ll enjoy going back over there. I have never played Royal Birkdale, but I’ve heard great things about it and it will be fun to get over and learn the course.”
Laird, who missed the cut in his first three appearances before stopping the rot at Royal Lytham in 2012, joins former winners Sandy Lyle and Paul Lawrie, as well as Russell Knox, for the event’s 146th staging, with chances for that Scottish contingent to be bolstered still to come.
Gailes Links in Ayrshire stages one of five final qualifying events today, when three players will progress at each of the venues, while three spots are also up for grabs in both this week’s Irish Open and Scottish Open after that to the leading non-exempt players in the top ten.
Colin Montgomerie, who qualified at Gailes Links last year before hitting the opening shot on home turf at Royal Troon, is not taking part in the 36-hole shoot-out on this occasion, but it’s a strong field, nonetheless, for the event’s last staging at this venue before moving to The Renaissance Club in East Lothian next summer.
The hopefuls are headed by Marc Warren, right, Montgomerie’s World Cup-winning team-mate in 2007, who is joined by two fellow European Tour players, Scott Jamieson and Scott Henry, as well as Challenge Tour card holders Grant Forrest and Jack Doherty.
Ayrshireman Doherty narrowly missed out on forcing a play-off with Montgomerie for the final spot last year, when Iceland’s Oscar Arvidsson claimed top spot after rounds of 64 and 68, with Spaniard Scott Fernandez finishing second. Like Montgomerie, neither Arvidsson nor Fernandez are in the line-up on this occasion.
It does include a number of amateur hopefuls, though, including Robert MacIntyre, Connor Syme, Craig Howie and Liam Johnston as they bid to set up a dream date straight after they join forces in the Scottish side bidding to complete a hat-trick of wins in the European Team Championship in Austria next week.
Scottish interest will also focus on Royal Cinque Ports, where Raymond Russell is trying to secure a return to Royal Birkdale 19 years after he produced a stunning performance to finish fourth behind Mark O’Meara in the game’s oldest major.
The Lothians man, who now lives in the London area, has already passed the regional test and now joins three-time major winner Vijay Singh at the Kent venue, where newly-crowned Scottish Challenge winner Richard McEvoy and Eddie Pepperell, who tied for 16th after qualifying for last month’s US Open at Erin Hills, is also in the field.
Ian Poulter will be hoping he can make home advantage count at Woburn, where the Ryder Cup player is joined by former Scottish Open champion Jeev Milkha Singh; hopefuls at Hillside include Tom Lewis, Lee Slattery and Peter Baker, as well as Cruden Bay amateur Roger Stephen; and Robert Rock and Zane Scotland are trying to get through at Notts (Hollinwell).
Joining Laird in securing spots through the first of three PGA Tour events that are part of The Open Qualifying Series were winner Kyle Stanley, runner-up Charles Howell III and South Korea’s Sunghoon Kang, who pipped seven others who finished in a tie for fifth through his higher world ranking.
As the highest-ranked non-exempt players on that list after the Quicken Loans National, former US Open champion Webb Simpson and fellow American Scott Piercy have also secured spots at Royal Birkdale, where the event is being staged for the first time since Padraig Harrington secured back-to-back Claret Jug wins in 2008.