The field for The 148th Open at Royal Portrush later this month is almost set, with time running out for players not already exempt to clinch their place.
Bernd Wiesberger, Robert Rock and Paul Waring are the latest men to guarantee a tee time in Northern Ireland after emerging from the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, at Lahinch Golf Club – the 11th event in The Open Qualifying Series.
Three places were available to the leading players who finished in the top-ten and ties, and who were not already exempt, and the beneficiaries were a trio with plenty of Open experience – all returning after missing out on last year’s event.
So who are Wiesberger, Rock and Waring, the men who will now be preparing to take on the famous Dunluce Links?
Bernd is back in the big time
The most successful Austrian golfer in history, Wiesberger is a five-time winner on the European Tour and will head for a sixth crack at The Open this month.
Having been born in Vienna, he came up through the Austrian amateur golf scene before playing on the European Challenge Tour in 2007 and 2008 and graduating to main tour in 2009, before returning in 2011 after initially dropping off.
His big breakthrough came at the 2012 Ballantine’s Championship, where he twice broke the course record en route to a five-stroke victory, and his Open debut came a year later at Muirfield, where he tied for 64th.
That was the first of five straight Open appearances – although his debut performance remains his best effort – and after missing out on reaching Carnoustie 12 months ago, Wiesberger’s second-place finish at the Irish Open confirms a return and validates a decision he made pre-tournament.
“I decided to withdraw from Final Qualifying to prepare for this week and it has paid off,” explained the Austrian.
“I enjoyed my week in Ireland and I have had a lot of success here. My first Open was in Muirfield and every one after that holds a special place in my golfing memory and heart. I can’t wait to get back to Northern Ireland and play Portrush.”
Robert ready to Rock and roll
Someone with even more golfing experience than Wiesberger was the second man to secure passage to Portrush via the Irish Open – as Rock will tee it up at his eighth Open.
The 42-year-old Englishman made his debut in golf’s original Championship at St Andrews way back in 2005 – Jack Nicklaus’s final Open appearance – as he finished in a tie for 67th.
Rock bettered that at Royal Liverpool 12 months later when he came joint-16th but his most impressive major performance was back at St Andrews in 2010, when he secured a seventh-place finish.
The Staffordshire native is a two-time European Tour winner – having clinched the 2011 BMW Italian Open and 2012 Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship – while also twice a runner-up at the Irish Open, losing a play-off to then-amateur Shane Lowry in 2009 and trailing only Paul Casey in 2013.
It’s seems fitting then that the Irish Open should provide his route back to The Open for the first time since 2016, after a course-record third round of 60 helped him secure a tie for fourth.
“I didn’t know this is going to be my eighth Open. It’s just nice to be playing another,” said Rock. “I have had a couple of good finishes, my best being at St Andrews, which is a nice venue to play well at.
“Portrush will be amazing. I get a nice bit of support around here.”
Waring goes forth
The final man to seal a Royal Portrush spot via the Irish Open was Waring, who nervelessly rolled in a birdie on the 72nd hole to secure fifth place.
His Portrush experience will come 12 years after his Open debut as an amateur in 2007 at Carnoustie and he also finished in a tie for 19th at Royal Birkdale a year later, before missing the cut at the same venue in 2017.
The 34-year-old Englishman has hit form over the past 12 months, as victory at the Nordea Masters last August was his first on the European Tour in what was his 200th event.
And Waring is ecstatic to have the opportunity to test himself at The Open for a fourth time, in front of a sell-out crowd.
“The Open is one of the reasons I play golf,” he explained. “I actually remember watching it as a kid and then wanting to go play pitch and putt with my grandad! It is one of things I have held really close to my heart.
“I am really looking forward to it. I played Royal Portrush at the Irish Open in 2012, so it will be nice to get back there.
“I remember back in 2012, the crowds were unbelievable, and I believe The Open is sold out already, so the atmosphere is going to be fantastic.”