English's 60 propels young star into British Open

Harris English hits his tee shot at No. 18 on Saturday at The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass. English dropped to T48 after the third round.

PLANO, Texas –- Harris English never seemed to drive on the wrong side of center all day Monday. But that will change in July, for English is headed to England.

Not that he will mind navigating his car down the left side of the median strip while over the pond, for he is thrilled to have qualified for the 141st Open Championship on July 19-22 at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

English, a PGA Tour rookie who turned pro after last year’s Walker Cup, shot 17-under 123 and won the Open’s International Final Qualifying America by four strokes over Englishman Greg Owen (66-61).

Canadian Stephen Ames (69-61), Andres Romero of Argentina (67-63) and American Justin Hicks (67-63) tied for third at the 6,871-yard Gleneagles Country Club Queens course.

The final three of the eight spots from the 78-man field went to Bob Estes (9-under 66-65), Daniel Chopra of Sweden (64-67) and James Driscoll (66-65). They advanced in a sudden-death playoff (four players for three berths) that eliminated Tour rookie Russell Knox of Scotland.

Estes birdied the first extra hole to clinch. Driscoll and Chopra moved on with pars on the second, the par-3 17th, where Knox hit two balls into water.

“It would’ve been a dream come true,” said Knox, who grew up playing links golf at Nairn Dunbar. “It would’ve been my biggest achievement.”

Knox made a 50-foot birdie putt in the opening round but was held back when missing some makable putts from short distance early in the second.

Tommy (Two Gloves) Gainey shot 64-68 and was among five players who missed the playoff by one stroke. Joining him were Ryan Moore, Patrick Reed, David Mathis and Roberto Castro.

Gainey’s pain came in the form of two double bogeys and a bogey in his second round. “Two bad swings,” he said. He was referring to a 4-iron tee shot and a wedge from a fairway that found hazards.

English, by contrast, never came close to finding trouble while qualifying for his first major championship. The former University of Georgia star birdied his final six holes in Round 1 in breaking Fred Couples’ Queens Course record of 62 set in 1995.

“I kind of lost track of how many straight birdies I made,” said English, 22, who ranks 77th in Tour earnings and has a best finish of tied for eighth at the RBC Heritage.

The 60 gave him a four-stroke midway lead. It featured an eagle and eight birdies. He eagled his second hole of the day, No. 10, making a 4-footer.

“I was relaxed,” he said. “I had some fun. I was striking the ball really well. In fact, I was doing everything really well.”

So well that he missed only three greens in regulation over 36 holes. “I just never got out of position,” he said.

English, who got on Tour by tying for 13th at last year’s Q-School finals, says his bucket list includes skydiving, flying in an F16 and driving a NASCAR vehicle. Soon he can cross the Open off the list.

Runner-up Owen, who grew up 90 minutes from Lytham, rode sharp driving and iron shots as well. He shot 61 despite not making a putt longer than 6 feet.

“I haven’t had a round like that in a long time,” Owen said.

Owen returns to Lytham with “fond memories.” The only time he has played there was in the 2001 Open, where he made a double eagle and led briefly in the third round before slipping to T-23.

Ames, 48, made two putts in the range of 20-25 feet in making an eagle and eight birdies in his closing 61. He took 23 putts and credited a change he made after missing the HP Byron Nelson Championship cut. Moving his right hand farther down the putter grip helped improve his angles at address and paid off Monday.

Interestingly, the four-time Tour winner was upset with the slow pace of the morning round and was thinking about quitting after making a pair of bogeys on the second nine.

“If I wasn’t four or five under on the third nine, I was going home,” said Ames, who has played 10 Opens, with a best finish of T-5 in 1997.

He’s glad he stayed the course, for he calls the Open Championship the “highlight of playing professional golf. Nothing comes close. I just love the British Open. You can hit 19 different golf shots from the same spot. Over here there’s not much imagination involved. Over there it’s all imagination.”

Hicks, a Nationwide regular who lost his card last year after his lone PGA Tour season, birdied four of his last six holes to get into his first Open Championship. The longest of those was from 8 feet. For the day, he chipped only four times, and one of those went in.

Estes has played in 10 Opens, with a tie for eighth in 1995 his best finish. The four-time Tour winner long has called the Open his favorite event.

“As far as I’m concerned it’s THE tournament,” said Estes, who grew up in Abilene and starred at Texas. “It’s the one I want to win the most. Guys who don’t get it, I feel sorry for. Most of them are high-ball hitters who didn’t grow up in the wind like me.”

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