Love sweats out British Open spot

“We thought it would take 11 under. But a lot of guys ran out of gas on the last nine," Love said.

“We thought it would take 11 under. But a lot of guys ran out of gas on the last nine," Love said.

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PLANO, Texas – The streak lives on. Davis Love III will be going to the British Open for the 23rd year in a row.

But it wasn’t easy. Nor did it come without a long wait and a worry.

Playing in the first group off, Love shot 10-under 132 in the 36-hole International Final Qualifier-America and then sat in the clubhouse sweating out whether he’d be one of the eight to advance. As it happened, the 1997 PGA champion made the cut on the number even though he wasn’t all that happy with his play at the Queens Course at Gleneagles Country Club and was expecting the worst.

“I’ve been sweating it out since (caddie Joe LaCava) said on the last hole that he didn’t think we’d get in,” Love said when play finished around 8 p.m. Monday at a par-71, 6,856-yard course that played short because of hard turf. “We thought it would take 11 under. But a lot of guys ran out of gas on the last nine.”

Afterward, LaCava laughed about his gloomy forecast. “I really didn’t think it had a chance,” he said.

Love, ranked 54th in the world, was buoyed by a stretch of seven consecutive 3s in the afternoon round – one for eagle, three for birdie and three for par. But as he waited for about two hours, he bemoaned his play on the par 5s other than No. 16, which he eagled twice. He approached the par-5 eighth twice with wedge and went par-birdie, and he parred the 10th twice, once with a 5-iron approach.

“From where I drove it, I should’ve shot lower,” said Love, the only major champion in the 78-man field.

But it was good enough to get him to the 138th Open Championship, July 16-19 at Turnberry in Scotland. It’s a course Love says he has played more than any other in the British Open rota, counting corporate outings and casual rounds. He says he once tied the course record there, playing with PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, but he’s unsure whether it was 62 or 63.

The Open is a tournament Love long has called his favorite. He said he was proud of not only continuing his streak but getting through a 36-hole qualifier walking at age 45. “It’s a hard thing to do, especially the older you get,” said Love, whose best Open finish was a tie for fourth in 2003. “So I’m excited. I’ve played well there so many times but haven’t finished well. That’s why I’m anxious to get back.”

Joining him from the U.S. qualifier are medalist Matt Kuchar (63-66), runner-up Jeff Overton (64-67) and five players tied Love for third at 132: Martin Laird of Scotland (67-65), American James Driscoll (67-65), Swedes Richard S. Johnson (65-67) and Fredrik Jacobson (68-64) and Tim Wilkinson of New Zealand (65-67).

Overton played the eight par 5s in 10-under par, thanks to three eagles. Johnson had a birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie streak on Nos. 7-10 in the morning and then birdied six of seven holes in the afternoon (Nos. 11-17).

Seven players shot 133, one shot outside the cut line: Ryan Moore (69-64), Glen Day (69-64), Ben Crane (68-65), Daniel Chopra (67-66), David Mathis (67-66), Heath Slocum (66-67) and Kevin Stadler (66-67). Crane was the highest ranked player in the field at No. 53.

Three of the top-five 18-hole leaders didn’t make it: Alex Cejka (63-71), D.A. Points (64-74) and Jesper Parnevik (64-70). Parnevik, who started Monday 6 under through eight holes, finished second to Nick Price in the last Open at Turnberry in 1994.

Kuchar drove and putted well, and was aided the knowledge of his regular caddie, Lance Bennett, a former Gleneagles assistant pro of five years. Kuchar, who has missed the cut in four previous Opens, also credited instructor Chris O’Connell for helping him refine his one-plane swing and become more consistent over the last three years.

“Now I feel I can have a bad day and still make the cut,” he said.

The only major championship Overton has played in was last year’s British. He qualified for the Open the second year in a row while playing with John Rollins. When he started three under through three, Rollins sensed the trend continuing from 2008 and said, “Come on, man.”

Laird was the last qualifier to finish but perhaps the happiest. He grew up in Glasgow, about a 45-minute drive from Turnberry, but oddly has never played a professional tournament anywhere in Europe.

“It’s not sunk in yet,” said Laird, whose parents still live in Scotland. “I’ve said a long time that it would be a dream two weeks if I could get a spot in the Scottish Open and then play the Open at Turnberry. I’m going to need a lot of tickets.”

Laird got in thanks to a hot start and finish. He began 4 under through five, then shot 5 under on the incoming nine.

Qualifiers already have been held in Africa, Australia and Asia. The final one is in England June 8. Then there’s local qualifying for three spots at each of three Scottish venues the Sunday-Monday before the Open. This was the sixth year of Open qualifying in the United States, the first time in Texas. three spots three venues Sunday-Monday

The top 50 players in the Official World Golf Ranking through May 24 automatically qualified for the Open. Among those was 2001 PGA champion David Toms, who missed the cut at the Nelson but held on, falling from 47th to 50th.

The top three players in 2009 FedEx Cup points (not otherwise exempt) also got in May 24: Brian Gay, Charley Hoffman and Charles Howell III.

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