Closer look at qualifying for U.S. and British Opens

By Doug FergusonMay 27, 2015, 12:20 am

The names of golf's two oldest championships are similar, and so are the concepts.

The British Open and the U.S. Open are open to anyone who wants to qualify. The difference between them, other than the 35 years of history and the turf on which golf is played, was evident Monday when the final exemptions were awarded through the world ranking.

The U.S. Open took the top 60 in the world who were not already eligible, adding 24 players to the field at Chambers Bay in three weeks. That brought the number to 74 players who do not have to qualify, and it brought a smile to the face of the USGA.

For the ninth straight year, at least half of the 156-man field will have to qualify for the right to play in the U.S. Open. That includes seven players who earned over $2 million on the PGA Tour last season, and three players who already have cleared $2 million this year. It includes Thomas Bjorn, who was in the Ryder Cup last September.

It's not easy to get into the major known as the toughest test in golf.

It's not unreasonable, either.

U.S. Open champions are exempt for 10 years. The Masters and PGA Championship give their winners a lifetime pass. British Open champions can play until they're 60.

Winners of the other three majors get a five-year exemption to the U.S. Open, while The Players Championship winner gets three years. The top 10 and ties from the previous U.S. Open don't have to qualify, nor do the 30 players who make it the Tour Championship.

Everyone else - except for amateurs and the Senior U.S. Open champion - has to qualify if they're not among the top 60 in the world. There is one more cutoff for the top 60 the week of the U.S. Open, though no more than two players typically get through.

Monday also was the cutoff for the British Open.

It took the top 50 in the world who were not already eligible from a long list of criteria that recognizes the quality of golf being played around the world. That's how it should be. The proper name of golf's oldest event is ''The Open Championship.'' It is the most global of majors, which is why the winner of the claret jug is introduced on the 18th green as the champion golfer of the year.

But it's not as open as it used to be.

The Open has similar exemptions for major champions, and it recognizes its European roots by giving a three-year pass to the BMW PGA Championship winner and to the top 30 from the Race to Dubai.

It also takes the money winner from tours in Australia, Asia and South Africa, and the top two from the money list in Japan. The list goes on.

Five more PGA Tour players can get in through the FedEx Cup standings a week after the U.S. Open. Two more from the Japan Golf Tour can get in through a special money list. There's a spot for the Japan Open champion, and for everyone on the last Ryder Cup team (that covers Bjorn).

There's still room for qualifying - as many as 44 spots, or roughly 28 percent of the field.

All but 12 of those are in the ''Open Qualifying Series.'' Those are part of an existing event, such as the Irish Open this week or the Greenbrier Classic next month. The top three or four players, provided they finish no worse than 12th in the tournament, get into the British Open if they haven't already qualified.

R&A chief Peter Dawson said last year that it effectively is a 72-hole qualifier, which would seem to be a more rigorous test, just like 36 holes is a better measure than 18. Except that players don't set out to get into the Open. They're trying to win a tournament.

It's different when its 36 holes against a field of players with the same objective. That's where golf's oldest championship loses some of its romance.

That's what the U.S. Open gets right.

Joe Ogilvie is an interesting case study. He retired last year, but not before making it through U.S. Open qualifying three straight years. A year ago, he missed three straight cuts and then tied for third in the qualifier. In 2013, he missed eight cuts and finished no higher than 46th in two other events. And then he finished fourth in the qualifier. He had the same bad form and same good result in 2012.

Think he would have stood a chance in the British Open qualifying system?

''I treated qualifiers differently,'' Ogilvie said. ''There was no scoreboard watching. I played the golf course. I didn't try to win. I didn't try to shoot 62. Just keep the ball in front of me, take all the big numbers out and go from there. Admittedly, if I treated my career like that I would have gone better.''

Luke Donald is not eligible for the U.S. Open or British Open for the first time in a decade. Depending on how he fares at the Irish Open this week, he will play a 36-hole qualifier on June 8 against a field of players not eligible for the U.S. Open. His odds are probably better than the British qualifying system, especially considering it has been three months since he last finished better than 15th.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.