Open: George Murray happy to be in Muirfield seven

George Murray qualified for the Open this week. Picture: Getty
George Murray qualified for the Open this week. Picture: Getty
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FORTUNATELY for him, George Murray can negotiate his way around East Lothian golf courses more easily than Heathrow airport.

Admitting he was having a “nightmare” trying to find the right terminal to catch a connecting flight to Germany yesterday, the Fifer is hoping a latest successful visit to Scotland’s Golf Coast will lead to his career taking off again.

Nine years after winning the Scottish Amateur Championship at Gullane, Murray is returning to the same neck of the woods to make his major debut, the 30-year-old having secured a spot in the 142nd Open Championship at Muirfield in a fortnight’s time through the Local Final Qualifying at North Berwick on Tuesday.

“I like it down there – it’s a beautiful part of the world and has certainly been good to me,” admitted Murray, who eagled the last for a course-record 64 to secure his spot in a play-off, which saw both him and West Linton’s Gareth Wright earn the final two spots up for grabs at that venue after Irishman David Higgins was penalised two shots for finding 15 clubs in his bag.

“It was nice to finish with a 2, though I never realised at the time how important it was going to be. Indeed, I actually didn’t think I was going to make it immediately after I’d finished. But, luckily enough, it turned out it was good enough,” added Murray, who was riding on the crest of a wave after tying for third in the Dunhill Links at St Andrews in 2011 but is back playing on the Challenge Tour this season.

“I’m excited about playing in a British Open as that’s the event I’ve always dreamed of playing in,” he admitted in looking forward to being part of a “Magnificent Scottish Seven” at Muirfield. Sandy Lyle and Paul Lawrie are both exempt as former Open champions; Richie Ramsay secured his spot off last year’s Race to Dubai and now Murray, Scott Jamieson, Lloyd Saltman and amateur Grant Forrest have all booked berths in different qualifiers over the past week or so.

Only time will tell if a serious challenge can be mounted by either of them in the event’s 16th staging at the home of the Honourable Company of Golfers but one thing for sure is that the state of the game in the home of golf is much better than it was when the final two rounds at Hoylake seven years ago took place without a single Scot left standing.

“Scottish golf is in really good health at the moment,” observed Murray. “We’ve seen Scott Jamieson and Stevie Gallacher both win on the European Tour, Martin Laird triumph again on the PGA Tour and, of course, Chris Doak also did well to qualify for the US Open recently.

“It’s pretty hard to get hold of that drip effect when you are playing on the Challenge Tour because you aren’t close enough to them to feed off that confidence. But I’m hoping that I can use The Open to kick-start things as far as my own career is concerned. The biggest event I’ve played in so far in my career is probably the Dunhill Links or the PGA at Wentworth, but the atmopshere at Muirfield will be on a different level.

“There’s no way I’m just going there to make up the numbers. I’ll hopefully have a good few days and will be looking to get in the mix. I’m hoping to get an invite to the Scottish Open next week, which would be great preparation.”

With the winner of that getting a spot in the R&A’s flagship event, there’s still a chance that an even bigger Scottish contingent could be stepping on to the first tee two weeks from today, while Marc Warren and Stephen Gallacher are also in contention for five Open places up for grabs for non-exempt players in the top 20 in the Race to Dubai. Heading into this week’s French Open – the final counting event – Warren is fourth and Gallacher sixth but, at the same time, they need to be in the top 20 on the money-list and at the moment are 21st and 23rd respectively.

According to Wright, meanwhile, he’ll feel divided loyalties when he plays in a major for the first time. “I’m Welsh but I’m as close to being Scottish as you possibly can be, having lived up here for 17 years now,” said the Edinburgh-based Tartan Tour player who is attached to West Linton. “An Open at Muirfield is definitely a home tournament for me and I’m probably an adopted Scot now,” added the 31-year-old. “My wife is Scottish and I also helped Scotland win the PGAs of Europe Team Championship in Portugal last year.”

Frustrated Higgins relives horror of finding exra club in his bag

IRELAND’S David Higgins has accepted full responsibility for the blunder which cost him the chance of a place in the Open Championship at Muirfield.

Higgins discovered he had 15 clubs in his bag – one more than permitted – on the first hole of a play-off in Local Final Qualifying at North Berwick on Tuesday, the two-shot penalty ending his hopes and allowing opponents Gareth Wright from West Linton and Fifer George Murray to progress.

The 40-year-old explained in his regular column on that he felt his five-under-par total had little chance of being good enough, so had therefore dried and stored his equipment – including a spare rescue club – in his car. “I couldn’t believe it but was delighted to see the way things were panning out as I moved up the leaderboard and became more confident that I could get one of the spots available in the play-off,” Higgins wrote.

“I decided to go the range to warm up again and hit a few balls. I just took driver, mid iron and wedge. It was still raining really hard so I kept the rain cover on my bag. My caddy for the day, Monty, a local man that knows North Berwick like the back of his hand, had done a great job all day and was up for the play-off.

“We headed for the tee. I hit a good tee shot and good second to about 15 feet. I was hunkered down reading my putt when the thought suddenly came into my head, ‘F***, did I take that other rescue out of the bag?’

“I stood up and felt a bit sick in my stomach as I walked over to the bag to check. And there she was looking up at me! B****cks It was a horrible thing to happen but I have no-one to blame only myself. I guess the excitement/adrenaline rush of getting another opportunity to play in the greatest golf event in the world clouded my judgement and I made a mistake.”