LeBlanc leads way toward Royal Troon at Regional Qualifying for The Open
Two years after claiming the Junior Open title at West Lancashire Ireland's Kevin LeBlanc took a step closer to securing his place in The 145th Open at Royal Troon.
In blustery conditions the 17-year-old Irish international was the only player in the field to break par at The Island – one of 13 Regional Qualifying venues – as he took his place among those who made it through to next Tuesday's 36-hole Final Qualifying.
LeBlanc's one-under-par 70 earned him a two stroke victory and he is joined by last week's semi-finalist at The Amateur Championship at Royal Porthcawl, Paul McBride (73) who, like LeBlanc, is a member at The Island.
Over 1,300 golfers had hopes of teeing it up at Royal Troon through Regional Qualifying and in one week’s time, 72 competitors will line up at each of the four Final Qualifying courses - Gailes Links, Hillside, Royal Cinque Ports and Woburn - with 12 of the 288 joining the world's best golfers at Royal Troon on July 14-17.
Heavy rain in some parts of the country on Monday caused delays and meant that play was completed at three of the venues, Sandy Lodge, Wildernesse and Little Aston, on Tuesday morning.
The lowest round across the 13 venues was produced by Joseph Long (Lansdown) whose five-under-par 67 earned him a two-shot victory at Remedy Oak.
At Sandy Lodge Daniel Williams made a hole-in-one at the par-three 8th hole on his way to qualifying with a one-under-par round of 69. Based in Marbella, where he coaches aspiring Tour professionals, it was the 38-year-old's 9th career hole-in-one, but certainly his most timely.
“I've been close to getting to The Open in the past, once missing out by one shot,” said Williams.
“The hole-in-one was a knock down 50 degree wedge. It was my ninth career ace and I also had a birdie-two on the 7th.”
The same venue saw veteran Scot Raymond Russell, who finished tied fourth in The Open at Royal Birkdale in 1998 and tied 38th at Royal Troon the year before, survive a five-man play-off for four places.
Ian Poulter will not be at Royal Troon after announcing earlier this month that a foot injury will keep him out of the game until the autumn, but his older brother Danny might still represent the family after also qualifying at Sandy Lodge.
At Panmure, 21-year-old Scot Alasdair MacDougall and Iceland's Andri Bjornsson were tied at the top after posting level par rounds of 70 in tough conditions.
MacDougall revealed why he is hoping to play at Gailes Links in Final Qualifying. “I'm actually a member there,” he laughed. “So I should have some local knowledge. I missed out at Regional Qualifying by one shot two years ago, my only previous start, so this is quite exciting.”
They were joined by 39-year-old Julian Cesar Nicolosi, from Buenos Aires, Argentina. It was his first experience with links golf and his hopes of playing in The Open were extended into next week after he defeated Michael Stewart in a play-off.
“I am very happy,” said Nicolosi. “It was a very long way from home to here. It is my first time here and my first time playing links golf. Maybe I can get to The Open. I will try. It would be a dream come true.”
2009 Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup player Dale Whitnell's three-under-par 69 led the way at Frilford Heath, prompting memories of his qualification four years ago, which led to a tied 60th finish at Royal Lytham & St Annes.
There was not such good news for 2014 qualifier John Singleton, however. The factory worker who made headlines at Royal Liverpool was unable to repeat his dream journey this year, missing out after a three-over-par round of 75 at West Lancashire.
Full list of qualifiers:
The Island: Kevin LeBlanc, Brendan McCarroll, Paul McBride
Northumberland: Andrew Wilson, Andrew Minnikin, Callum Cochrane, Mathew Webb
Panmure: Andri Bjornsson, Alasdair MacDougall, Scott Borrowman, Julian Cesar Nicolosi
Fairhaven: David Lee Brunton, Mike Jones, Oliver Smith, Daniel Brown, Adam Cryer, Jack Clarkson
Luffenham Heath: Benjamin Jones, Henry Young-Alls, Alastair Kinnaird, Robert Harris, Sam Claypole, Ian Ellis
Moortown: Steven Robins, Thomas Curtis, Michael Durcan, Nick McCarthy, Benjamin Firth, Joe Dean
Remedy Oak: Joseph Long, Henry Smart, Josh Hilleard, Louis Hirst, Elliott Groves, Harry Hall, James Billingham
Frilford Heath: Dale Whitnell, Ben Rawsthorne, Neil Rowlands, Angus Mottershead, Martin Woodbridge, Sam Whitehead, Daniel Seymour
West Lancashire: Matthew Jordan, Samuel Prince, Craig Goodfellow, James Westwood, Andrew Carter, Garry Houston, Daniel Croft
Burhill: Liam Crawford, Corrado De Stefani, Tom Sloman, Clemens Prader, loan Drosinos Jones, Luke Goddard, Robert Prior,
Little Aston: David James, Will Harvey, Thomas Godfrey, Delon Hau, Arron Wright, Sam Edwards, Oliver Farrell
Sandy Lodge: Brett Taylor, Daniel Williams, Omar Butt, Darren Charlton, Oskar Franck, Daniel Poulter, Raymond Russell
Wildernesse: Adam Osth, Chris Cotton, Mark Collins, Luke Bangerter, Daniel Garner, Luke Spooner, Jay Taylor