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The Open Qualifying Series

Wilson plotting his major return


To Valhalla and back again


When Oliver Wilson teed it up at Carnoustie in The 147th Open this past summer – he snapped an eight-year wait for a major appearance.

But the 38-year-old will not have to wait until 2026 for his next appearance on golf’s biggest stage.

His top-three finish at last weekend’s South Africa Open – part of the Open Qualifying Series – has already booked him a berth at Royal Portrush next year.

And that will cap a fine comeback for the Englishman who has enjoyed both feast and famine in his 15 years in the professional game.

New beginnings

Now 38, Wilson was born and raised in Mansfield before moving across the pond to play collegiate golf at Augusta State University.

There he marked himself out as a match-player of some repute – a glimpse of things to come when he claimed his sole Ryder Cup spot in 2008 at Valhalla.

And by the time he returned to the European Tour, Wilson was a name very much on the rise.

Steady rise

His progression through the ranks was gradual but pronounced year on year after turning pro in 2003.

By 2007 he had graduated from the Challenge Tour to the European Tour’s top 30 in the Order of Merit.

2006 saw his first major appearance at the US Open in Winged Foot and a year later he was making his Open bow at Carnoustie when Padraig Harrington was crowned Champion Golfer of the Year.


Annus mirabilis

But 2008 was his stand-out season that marked him out as a name to look out for as he secured four runner-up spots on the European Tour.

Those included a fine performance in the BMW PGA Championship where he was only edged out in a play-off by Miguel Angel Jimenez.

While the silverware had eluded him, Wilson had done enough to secure a Ryder Cup spot at Valhalla – becoming the first European player to qualify for a spot without a tournament win.

In Valhalla, while Team Europe struggled – Wilson and Henrik Stenson recorded a memorable foursomes win over Phil Mickelson and Anthony Kim despite going four down on the front nine.

Steady decline

Wilson lost his singles match on Sunday to Boo Weekley but appeared in Team Europe to stay.

In 2009 he claimed a couple more runners-up finishes and his best-ever Open performance to date.

Wilson was tied for 24th at Turnberry when Stewart Cink downed the people’s favourite Tom Watson in a play-off.

But by 2010 – Wilson’s last year appearing in all four majors– the slump had set in.

Dunhill drama

By 2011 Wilson’s struggles with his game had seen him lose his European Tour playing rights and had to make do with the Challenge Tour.

His woes continued and the man himself admits he was considering quitting the game before his moment of magic in 2014 at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.

There, after nine career runner-up finishes on the Tour, and only in the field as a sponsor’s invite due to his world ranking being down at 792, Wilson shocked the world-class field to claim victory.

That year he held off the likes of Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood – firing a 64 at Carnoustie and never looking back.

But that breakthrough did not herald the new dawn he would have hoped, and by 2016 Wilson had lost his card again.


Open return ticket

It was fitting therefore that his first major-reappearance came at Carnoustie this year.

He had made it through from Final Qualifying  for his first major since 2010 and although he missed the cut – the confidence had returned.

He then won twice on the Challenge Tour to continue his progression and stamp out any new retirement doubts.

And then came last weekend and the South Africa Open.

South African saviour

Despite having played the majority of his golf on the Challenge Tour over the last two seasons and having missed the cut at the Final Stage of Qualifying School last month, Wilson rediscovered some of his best golf.

And while a bogey on the 72nd hole nearly cost him, now he can start dreaming of Portrush and The Open in 2019.

"I'm delighted," said the former European Ryder Cup star. "It wasn't really something I was thinking about going out there.

"This is quite big to know that you're in The Open at this stage of the year. It's great that I can have something that I'm really looking forward to. I managed to get in last year, and it's where you want to be. You never want to miss The Open.

"The Open is the best one there is. I played it this last year but I hadn't played it for a few years. Coming back and seeing what is was like at Carnoustie, the infrastructure there, and knowing the eyes of the whole world are on the tournament.

"You want to be there, everything about it and the way that it was run was fantastic, so to qualify and get in there is nice."