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Gillis' consolation prize: Berth in Open Championship

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SILVIS, Ill. – It’s safe to say there weren’t many people rooting for Tom Gillis at TPC Deere Run on Sunday.

There weren’t that many people rooting for him in his own house.

“My daughter just loves Jordan Spieth,” Gillis said. “She’s seven. So I wasn’t sure during the playoff whether she was pulling for me or Jordan.”

After finding the water on the second extra hole and losing to Spieth in a playoff, the soon-to-be-47-year-old missed out on a bid to finally earn his first PGA Tour victory.

Instead, he won a free flight.

With his 7-under 64 and second-place finish at the John Deere Classic, Gillis earned an invite to next week’s British Open. He’ll also get to spend plenty more time with Spieth, when the two of them board the tournament charter headed for Scotland later Sunday evening.

“I said all week I wasn’t going if I got the spot. I think I was just talking big,” Gillis said. “I spent five years over there [on the European Tour], going back and forth. I labored heavily for five years all over the world. So I kept saying all week, ‘I’m past that chapter in my life. I wouldn’t go if I got that spot.’

“’Then I find myself looking at the board and thinking, ‘Man, I wouldn’t mind if I got that spot.”

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He did. Gillis secured the very last spot in the British field via the Open Qualifying Series and now heads to St. Andrews with nothing but his passport and new outlook on what’s possible for the rest of his career.

“I mean, when you’re going to be 47, you’ve got – the window is closing,” he said. “You start to get to the point when you wonder how much more there is. But what I saw today and the last three days, I would have to say maybe I’ve still got some time left.”

That 47th birthday will come Thursday, when he tees off in the first round of his fifth major championship in his 25-year career. Gillis has twice played the Open, at Carnoustie in 1999 and Royal Birkdale in 2008, but he’s never played it at St. Andrews. His last trip there was as part of the Alfred Dunhill Links in 2012.

After this week, and given his feelings for the Old Course, it figures to be an emotional day.

“Every time you walk up that first tee, it’s emotional,” he said. “I’ve never been like that anywhere else. I’ve never been to Augusta. But when I walk off the first tee at St. Andrews, it’s very euphoric.”

As happy as he’ll be, it’s some kind of cruel irony that Gillis has only one other second-place finish in his Tour career – when he lost to then-23-year-old Rory McIlroy at the Honda Classic in 2012.

“Every time I get into situations like this, I seem to pick the biggest, toughest kid on the block,” he said.

“But here we are. Really, in the grand scheme of things, I never thought I’d have a nice house on a lake on the same street where I grew up in Michigan. Everything is gravy from here on out for me, because it’s been a lot of peaks and valleys since 1990.

“I am the prototypical journeyman.”