Chris Devlin will be reunited with his old college buddy Graeme McDowell today after landing a last gasp invitation to tee it up in a near sell-out Irish Open at Royal Portrush.
The US based player, who was an alternate for the US Open two weeks ago but failed to get a start, was informed he was getting the last of eight sponsor’s invitations on Monday morning and rapidly hot-footed it to the airport.
While Devlin was flying to Chicago and on to Northern Ireland, several other Irishmen were battling for their places in next month’s Open Championship at Royal Lytham and St Annes.
Shane Lowry, Peter Lawrie and Paul McGinley failed to win one of 10 spots on offer from the European International Final Qualifying event at Sunningdale.
Lowry shot rounds of 69 and 68 (137) to to miss out on a five-man play-off for the last two spots (135) by two shots with Lawrie six off the pace after rounds of 72 and 69. McGinley, presumably less than fresh following his heroic 11th place finish in Cologne on Sunday, opened with a 75 and withdrew.
But five Irishmen progressed to Local Final Qualifying through the Regional Qualifying event at Royal Dublin.
Kerry’s Mark Murphy was one of the lucky quintet to progress and so remains on course for his second Big Break of the season having won a place in the Irish Open by virtue of his win in the Golf Channel’s Big Break Ireland reality TV series.
The Waterville man fired a one under 71 to take second spot at Dollymount where home player Patrick Devine shot a three under 69 to top the qualifiers.
Baltray’s Simon Ward (72) and fellow amateur Sean Ryan (73) of Royal Dublin also made it through with the last spot going to Carrickfergus pro Ross Oliver (73).
But there was agony for former Shamrock Rovers striker Stephen Grant (74) who was furious to miss a three footer at the 18th and miss out on a possible play-off by a shot.
More than 1,400 hopefuls teed it up at 14 Regional Qualifying sites across Britain and Ireland yesterday. But to join Open champion Darren Clarke at Royal Lytham, the five qualifiers from Royal Dublin must battle another 283 players for just 12 spots at one of four Local Final Qualifying venues on July 3.
Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Michael Hoey and Padraig Harrington will also be at Royal Lytham of course, and there’s still time for Lowry, Lawrie and McGinley to make it. In fact, any player who is the leading non-exempt player in the top five at next week’s French Open or the following week’s Scottish Open can seal their place in the field.
Failing that, there are two more places up for grabs from a cumulative money list taken from seven official European Tour events leading up to and including the Irish Open, Thongchai Jaidee, Richard Sterne, Danny Willett, Lawrie and McGinley are the leading contenders for those places heading to Portrush.
As for the thorny question of tournament invites, Devlin is the 27th Irish player to make the field alongside fellow invitees Paul Cutler, Niall Kearney and Murphy. The other four invitations went to John Daly, Darren Clarke’s stablemate Shiv Kapur, South African talent Dylan Fritelli, who is managed by IMG and American Daniel Miernicki, who missed the cut by three shots on his professional debut in the Travelers Championship in Connecticut last weekend.
Miernicki is a stable mate of one of the irish Open’s star attractions, US PGA champion Keegan Bradley, who touched down on the north coast and did some sightseeing.
Not only did he visit the Giant’s Causeway and Bushmills Distillery, he stood in the giant fairway bunker on the par-five 17th on the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush and tweeted a picture.