WALTON HEATH, England – Sweden’s Alex Noren and Scotland’s Marc Warren finished top of the pile in the U.S. Open qualifier on Monday at Walton Heath Golf Club, where Italian sensation Matteo Manassero was one of four players to emerge from a nail-biting playoff for the final spots. A total of 81 players competed in the one-day, 36-hole qualifier for 11 spots.
Noren, who will defend his ISPS Handa Wales Open title this week, and Warren, whose afternoon round of 65 on the New Course was the lowest of the day, cruised through on 9 under par, two shots clear of their nearest rivals.
U.S. OPEN QUALIFIER
The top 11 players out of the 81-man field booked their places in the U.S. Open Monday in a one-day, 36-hole qualifier at Walton Heath.
England’s Lee Slattery, Frenchman Grégory Bourdy, Finland’s Mikko Ilonen, South African George Coetzee and Denmark’s Soren Kjeldsen made up the remaining automatic qualifiers on 7 under par, meaning that five players on 6 under par had to return to the course to battle it out for the final four berths.
After birdies at the first extra hole, European Tour rookie Matthew Baldwin of England and Manassero were the first players to book their places at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, where Baldwin will be making his U.S. Open debut.
That left Korean Sihwan Kim, Frenchman Raphael Jacquelin and Ireland’s Peter Lawrie to fight for the two remaining spots on the second extra hole, and it was Kim who fell by the wayside after failing to get up and down for par from the greenside bunker.
However, as the first alternate, Kim could still, in the event of withdrawals, tee up at the second major of the 2012 season, which will be held from June 14-17.
Two-time European Tour champion Warren is guaranteed his place, and is relishing the prospect of competing in his maiden major.
“There were a lot of highlights today. I actually burned the edge of the hole quite a few times so I could’ve gone even lower than 9 under, but I’ll certainly take it,” Warren said. “The way I played at Wentworth last week gave me confidence to take into this week, then my round this morning was another big step in the right direction, and a 65 in the second round was better than I could have imagined.
“It’ll be my major debut, so I can’t wait to get out there,” he added. “I think I’ll need to get a new lob wedge with new grooves in the bag, because the greens are going to be very firm and the rough’s going to be up. I spoke to Gareth Maybin last week, and he told me the course is pretty brutal. But I’m really looking forward to it. I’m sure I’ll enjoy the experience, and if I can take the mindset I had today into the tournament, hopefully I can give a good account of myself.”
Noren will be making his second U.S. Open appearance, having also qualified at Walton Heath 12 months ago, and he is determined to improve on his tie for 51st at Congressional Country Club last year.
“I’m very happy. I was really tired this morning after Wentworth last week, but now I feel a lot better,” he said. “I managed to keep the ball in play all day, which is key because if you don’t, you’re going to get punished. So I’m really pleased with my driving.
“When I qualified here last year, it really turned my season around because I won in Wales the week after,” he added. “I’ve always wanted to play the U.S. Open, and it really spurred me on for the rest of the season. Hopefully this year will be the same.”
Manassero also made his U.S. Open debut last year, and after securing a second appearance the young Italian is keen to enhance his burgeoning reputation.
“It feels great, especially to do it with a birdie in the playoff,” said Manassero. “There was a lot of tension, because there was so much to play for. So it means a lot to me to get my place, and I’m really looking forward to going back to play in America.
“It should be a great experience, and I’ve heard really good things about the course,” he added. “There are lots of World Ranking points available, so hopefully I can play well and climb the Rankings and The Race to Dubai. Everybody wants to play in the big tournaments, and they don’t come much bigger than the US Open. I can’t wait.”
Despite highly encouraging morning displays, Colin Montgomerie and José María Olazábal, Ryder Cup Captains past and present, will not be making the trip to San Francisco after carding respective afternoon rounds of 72 and 74.