Ian Poulter, playing in front of a large gallery at his home course of Woburn, was one of 15 players to make it through Final Qualifying for The 146th Open at Royal Birkdale. Matthew Southgate won the qualifier at Royal Cinque Ports at Deal for the second year running as three players at each of five venues claimed places in golf’s original Championship.
India’s Shiv Kapur took the top spot with scores of 71 and 65 for an eight-under-par 136 total. He made a special 4,167-mile round trip from his home in Delhi just to play. He only arrived in Woburn on Sunday evening and was flying straight home. England’s Toby Tree earned a start in the biggest championship of his career by tying Poulter for second on six-under-par. Sweden’s Jens Dantorp left Woburn frustrated after receiving a two-shot penalty for having 15 clubs in his bag on his opening hole of the day before going on to finish one shot outside the qualifiers.
Southgate won his Final Qualifying event for the third time in four years, including back-to-back years at Royal Cinque Ports. In 2014 Southgate won at Sunningdale before going on to miss the cut at Royal Liverpool. In 2015 he failed to qualify and instead spent the week of The Open at St Andrews recovering from an operation for testicular cancer.
Last year he made an emotional return to The Open with a tied 12th place finish at Royal Troon, just missing out on an automatic trip to Royal Birkdale. But an afternoon 65, thanks to an outward 32 plus his seventh birdie of the round at the 17th, took care of that as he finished on six-under-par. Robert Dinwiddie finished three shots behind to secure his second Open appearance while Austin Connelly, a 20-year-old dual citizen of Canada and the United States in his first year on the European Tour, birdied the first extra hole of a play-off from 15 feet to claim the final place ahead of three others.
Haydn McCullen, shot a course-record 64 to finish on 135 at Hillside, two strokes clear of Nick McCarthy, with Adam Hodkinson third a further stroke back. McCullen, a 20-year-old who plays out of Delamere Forest in Cheshire, gained nine birdies and dropped just one shot as he came from five behind the leaders at the halfway stage.
England’s Mark Foster and Joe Dean shared first place at Notts Golf Club (Hollinwell). Forster, from nearby Worksop, carded rounds of 68 and 66 and a few minutes later was joined on ten-under-par 134 by Dean whose second-round 64, including a run of five consecutive threes from the fourth, was the lowest score of the day.
Foster and Dean finished three shots clear of English professional Lawrie Canter and amateurs Rhys Nevin-Wharton and Stefano Mazzoli. Mazzoli, who played in last year’s Open as reigning European Amateur champion, was the first player to drop out of the subsequent play-off when he bogeyed the second extra hole before Canter sealed his spot at Birkdale with a par-four on the next hole.
Ian Poulter said: “Job done. Obviously going back to Birkdale after what happened in 2008 is special. You know I thought I had that 15-foot putt (on the 72nd) to maybe win or get in a play-off and then my Irish friend (Padraig Harrington) decided to go bananas on the last five holes. It was a great week, my best in a major. I would say Birkdale is my favourite Open venue because of 2008 and I’m looking forward to competing there.”