December 11: Shubhankar Sharma, Erik van Rooyen and Shaun Norris secured their places in The 147th Open after qualifying at the Joburg Open on Monday.
The tournament, tri-sanctioned between the Sunshine Tour, the European Tour and the Asian Tour, was the second event in The Open Qualifying Series, which gives players the chance to book their place at Carnoustie from 15-22 July 2018.
After thunderstorms brought a premature end to Sunday’s final round, around half the field returned to Randpark Golf Club on Monday for the tournament’s conclusion. Play got underway at around 8am after ground staff worked tirelessly to restore the course to a playable standard.
Sharma, holding a four-shot lead at the suspension, showed no signs that the overnight rain delay had affected him when he resumed his final round at the eighth hole. Despite van Rooyen’s effort to close the gap to three shots with a birdie up ahead at the ninth hole following the restart, the young Indian golfer responded with one of his own and continued the fine form he has shown throughout the tournament to lift the trophy on 23-under-par and confirm his place at The Open – his first start at a major championship.
The 21-year-old, whose third-place finish at the 2017 Bashundhara Bangladesh Open was his previous best result, remained calm over the back nine and parred every hole to record a three-shot victory.
“The Open Championship is my favourite major and it has been for as long as I can remember. The last ten years I have been watching and I have always dreamed of playing in The Open. I just can’t believe that I am going to play next year,” said Sharma.
Van Rooyen, who will also make his maiden appearance at a major championship, can be commended for his effort in attempting to catch Sharma. The South African signed for a six-under-par 66 which saw him finish the tournament on 20-under-par. An excellent final round, including three consecutive birdies at the third, fourth and fifth holes and a further three at seventh, ninth and 12th, saw the 27-year-old occupy second spot and seal his place in The Open.
“I am really excited, and I feel like a little kid inside. It’s my first major championship and something I have played for my whole life, so I am very much looking forward to it,” said Van Rooyen.
“It’s the one that we all want to win – it’s The Open! If you look at the names on this trophy (Claret Jug), you’ve got Ben Hogan, just legends of the game, so just playing in this championship is going to be phenomenal,” he added.
Shaun Norris waited until Monday to play his way into contention for one of the three available qualifying spots. Returning to the course on three-under-par for the round, the damp conditions didn’t thwart the 35-year-old South African as he strolled through the back nine holes to record four birdies and catapult himself into a tie for third place with Tapio Pulkkanen.
Despite having the better world ranking – by just five places – Norris faced a nervous wait knowing if Pulkkanen birdied the 18th he would take the final qualifying spot. The Finn failed to reach the green with his second shot and parred the final hole.
“There is one trophy that any professional golfer would love to raise and that is this trophy (Claret Jug) – so hopefully it all works out and we will see what happens,” said Norris.