Englishman Gregory Eason has finished at the top of the leaderboard at the conclusion of the two-day stroke play qualifying stage of the 2011 British Amateur on Tuesday. The 18-year-old from Leicester produced a 3-under-par 68 at Hesketh Golf Club, adding to Monday’s 71 at Hillside, for a 4-under-par total of 139.
“I’m looking forward to the match play,” said Eason, who studies at the University of Central Florida. “Hillside is fantastic; it’s one of the toughest courses I’ve ever played. I hardly get to play any match play in the States, but I’m going to approach it in the same way. If I play as well as I have done, I’ll be okay.”
Wales’ Alastair Jones signed for a 3-under-par 68 at Hesketh to finish qualifying in second place. The Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup squad member reached a two-round total of 140, enough to finish at 3 under par.
“Everyone’s just trying to qualify for the match-play stage, but it obviously gives you some confidence performing well in the stroke play,” said Jones, who used driver just once Tuesday. “I’ll certainly be more aggressive in the match play tomorrow. A double bogey in the qualifying rounds can ruin your chances, but from now on, it’s just one hole.”
One shot back from Jones after a 69 at Hillside was England’s Steven Brown, who was beaten in the first round of match play at Formby in the 2009 British Amateur by eventual winner Matteo Manassero.
“I love this place. It’s a real pleasure to play here,” said Brown. “If I keep playing the way I am, I’ve got a good chance against anyone.”
Boys Amateur Champion Adrian Otaegui of Spain joined a raft of players on 1-under 142. This week, he is attempting to emulate his compatriots Sergio Garcia and Jose Maria Olazabal in adding the British Amateur to his Boys Amateur title.
“I am very far away from thinking about winning,” said the Spaniard. “I am playing well, yes, but I am not thinking about that yet. One day at a time.”
Another Walker Cup squad member, Michael Stewart, is also safely through to the knockout stages after a 1-over-par 72 at Hesketh. The Scot will approach the match play with confidence, as he attempts to claim the amateur season’s biggest prize.
“There’s something about match play for me,” he explained. “I’ve got grit and I never give in. Even if I’m down, I still think I’m going to win. This and the U.S. Amateur are the two most important events in the calendar. If you win the Amateur Championship, it’s life-changing.”
In addition to the trophy, this week’s winner will earn a place in the 2011 British Open Championship at Royal St. George’s next month and an invitation to the 2012 Masters Tournament at Augusta National.
The round of the day at Hillside was produced by England’s Jack Bartlett, who, after opening with a bogey, made five birdies in the following blemish-free 17 holes for a 4-under-par 68. Four under par also led the way at Hesketh, with France’s Victor Perez, Englishman Patrick Spraggs and Max Rottluff of Germany all signing for 67s.
High-profile players who failed to make the 147 qualifying threashold included last year’s runner-up James Byrne, 2009 Walker Cup player Stiggy Hodgson and rising Italian star Domenico Geminiani.