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Home 2011 Open Championship field is set

Walker Cup squad member Tom Lewis has earned a return to Royal St George’s, two years after winning the Boys Amateur Championship, at a rain-delayed Open Championship Local Final Qualifying (LFQ), yesterday. The 20-year-old, from Sir Nick Faldo’s home club of Welwyn Garden City, signed for rounds of 63 and 65 to finish three strokes clear of the field at Rye; one of four venues in England’s south east being used for LFQ in 2011.

“I really wanted to make it this year, especially after winning the Boys in 2009,” said Lewis, who won the St Andrews Links Trophy on the Old Course, as well as reaching the quarter-finals of the Amateur Championship, earlier this month. “When I lost in the last eight of the Amateur, I thought my chance had gone. But I hit the ball so well today that I knew I had another opportunity, and I was really happy to get the job done.

“Amateurs have done so well in recent years, so I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t be up there challenging for a place in the top ten. I know that it’s a big step up, but I’ve played a lot of links golf, this year, and I’m comfortable at Royal St George’s, so, if I play as well as I can, I’ve got every chance of competing.”

The remaining two qualifiers at Rye were 23-year-old Oxford Golf Centre assistant professional Adam Wootton and Mark Laskey, also from Welwyn Garden City, who earned his Open berth in a play-off against the Netherlands’ Inder Van Weerelt on Wednesday morning.

At Prince’s, home professional Francis McGuirk used local knowledge to make sure of his place at neighbouring Royal St George’s. McGuirk, 37, returned a 36-hole total of 139, five under par, to finish tied-second, two shots behind Windermere’s Simon Edwards, who finished last in last year’s Open at St Andrews.

“I’m back in work at the pro shop at 7am in the morning and have a six-hour drive in between times,” said Wales’ Edwards, “but it’ll be a happy drive home all the same.”

23-year-old Hertfordshire professional Tom Shadbolt, remarkably a third qualifier born in Welwyn Garden City, took the remaining place, tied with McGuirk on five-under-par 137.

Meanwhile, 2005 US Open Champion Michael Campbell missed out on qualification by just one stroke, after bogeying his final two holes.

“This, the process of having to qualify, is a very humbling experience for me,” said the New Zealander. “Having won a Major, and having enjoyed the exemptions that come with it for quite a few years, there’s a danger of taking all that for granted, but this experience certainly focuses your attention and gets your mind back on the job.

“It was a strange experience hiring a local caddy for 36 holes and playing with no ropes for crowd control. It’s something I don’t really want to get used to.”

LFQ at Royal Cinque Ports was led by another amateur, Craig Hinton, whose five-under-par total of 139 was good enough to finish one stroke clear of fellow qualifiers Andrew Johnston of North Middlesex and Wellingborough’s Simon Lilly, both of whom came through a four-man play-off.

Hinton, who, in February, was in intensive care for a week after being diagnosed with myopericarditis, an inflammation of the heart, said: “The doctors said it would take six months to a year to get over [the illness] but I progressed well. After everything I’ve been through, it’s unbelievable to be in The Open. It’s hard to take in.”

Last of the venues to complete qualifying was Littlestone, where play finished just before midday on Wednesday. Two-time European Tour winner Markus Brier of Austria and Lee Corfield of Burnham and Berrow came through a five-man play-off to claim their places at golf’s oldest Major, but it was Tudor Park’s Andy Smith who led the field by one, on a four-under-par total of 138.

Underlining why Local Final Qualifying is of such value to The Open Championship, Smith said: I really cannot believe this has happened to me. I only entered qualifying this year because the events were in Kent. I haven’t got much money at the moment and I have been doing all kinds of part-time jobs to keep myself going – labouring, landscape gardening for one of my friends, and a bit of work as a carpenter’s mate.

“I’m even using borrowed clubs this week, with one wedge that I found in my garage at home and another wedge that was in the lost property room at Tudor Park. My own irons and wedges are non-conforming, so I’ve had to borrow a set from a member. I only used them for the first time in practice last week, when I paid £25 to come down here for an extra practice round.

“It’s just like everything has been meant to be, and on the course I felt as if things would be okay. It’s incredible. I’m in a daze.”

Full hole-by-hole scores from Local Final Qualifying are available on Opengolf.com.