The Open Qualifying Series - Final Qualifying
Bidding to return to The Open on home turf, Colin Montgomerie thrilled a sizeable crowd by getting in the first-round mix in Open Qualifying Series Final at Gailes Links.
The 53-year-old, who is connected to Royal Troon, where his dad, James, served as club secretary, finished with four birdies in the last six holes for a five-under-par 66 at the Ayrshire venue.
The effort was bettered only by one player, unheralded Swede Oskar Arvidsson. The 25-year-old shrugged off his lowly world ranking of 1,418 to set the pace with a flawless effort that was ignited by an opening eagle, having hit his drive to 25 feet at the 346-yard first hole.
Frenchman Raphael Marguery, who is making his first attempt to qualify for the season's third major, was lying third at the halfway stage on 67, with Ayrshireman Jack Doherty on 68 and Irish trio Kevin Phelan, Gavin Moynihan and Alex Gleeson all a shot further back along with Dunbar's Zander Culverwell.
Montgomerie, who made 21 consecutive Open appearances until 2010, had been preparing at Gailes Links for this attempt since the end of last week. That work paid an immediate dividend as he took an iron off the tee at the first before playing a lovely approach to three feet for an opening birdie. "This is an easy game," said the eight-time European No 1 with a massive smile as he headed to the second tee.
Still one under with six to play, Montgomerie moved up a gear over the closing stretch in intermittent rain. He rolled in birdie putts from 22 feet and eight feet at the 13th and 14th, converted a monster close to 50 feet at the 16th, then knocked his approach to four feet at the 17th for another birdie.
Scotland’s Raymond Russell collected five birdies in a row on the way to leading at Royal Cinque Ports in Deal with a four-under-par 67 in the first round.
Starting at the tenth, Russell played the back nine in one-over-par 36 but started his run at the first hole. He holed from 40 feet at the fifth but missed from 12 feet to extend the run at the sixth. Russell, 43, who won the Cannes Open in 1996, finished tied fourth in The Open at Royal Birkdale in 1998, alongside Jim Furyk and amateur Justin Rose, two strokes outside a play-off.
Richard Finch, who missed the cut at the recent Lyoness Open in his only appearance after a five-month layoff due to tendonitis in his Achilles heal, scored a 68 with the assistance of a chip-in birdie at the fourth. On the same mark was New Zealand’s Steven Alker, while among those on 69 was James Heath, winner of last week’s Scottish Hydro Challenge, who chipped in for an eagle-two at the short par-four sixth.
Australian David Bransdon led at the halfway stage at Hillside, where play was suspended early in the second round after another bout of torrential rain, which the late morning finishers had had to battle through.
Bransdon is on on four under par 68, with five players on 69 and three on 70. He birdied the third and fourth to be out in 34 then picked up shots at the 11th, 13th and 18th on the way home, dropping just one at 15th.
Close on his heels are European tour player Jack Senior from Lancashire club Heysham, Josh Loughrey from Wrag Barn in Swindon, Dave Coupland from Woodhall Spa and two amateurs, Hull's Steven Robins and Jamie Bower from the Meltham cluib in Huddersfield.
Local man Sam Whitehead chipped in three times on his way to sharing the lead with Australian amateur Cameron Davis after the first round over the Marquess’ course at Woburn.
The 25-year-old former Woburn junior club captain carded seven birdies and a solitary bogey to record a six under par 66 and that was enough to see him top the leaderboard alongside in-form Davis who last Sunday finished second behind Jamie Bower at the English Open Amateur Stroke Play Championship (Brabazon Trophy) at the London Club.
Whitehead and Davis go into the second round two shots in front of Ireland’s Paul Dunne and English quartet Oliver Fisher, Ben Stow, Ryan Evans and Chris Lloyd. Dunne is bidding for an historic Woburn three-peat after qualifying for The Open on the Marquess’ course for the last two years. Twelve months ago he went on to share the 54-hole lead over the Old Course before carding a closing 78 to fall back into a share of 30th place.
Stow headed the field at the 2013 Local final qualifying event at Gullane and made his Open debut in that year’s Championship at Muirfield while Fisher is another player with warm memories of the Marquess’ course having finished tied ninth at last season’s British Masters.
Former Masters champion Mike Weir pulled out of the Final Qualifying before the start in order to play in this week’s 100th French Open at Le Golf National.