By PGA.com news services
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Floris de Vries of the Netherlands and South Africans Martin Maritz and Neil Schietekat earned their first major championship appearances on Wednesday after claiming the three available places in the 2011 British Open at the African edition of International Final Qualifying (IFQ).
The players competed in a two-day, 36-hole qualifier on Tuesday and Wednesday. The British Open will be held July 14-17 at Royal St. George’s in England.
Dutchman De Vries qualified comfortably, finishing four clear of the field. His Wednesday round of 64 was followed by a 3-under-par 68 for a 36-hole total of 10-under-par 132 on the 7,637-yard, par-71 East Course at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club. He opened with two bogeys in the first three holes, but cemented his position at the top with birdies on the fifth, sixth, eighth, 13th and 18th holes.
“It feels really great,” said the 21-year old, who graduated to the European Tour this year after taking fourth place on the 2010 Challenge Tour. “I sort of knew after yesterday that I could do it as I was playing really well, but it’s a great feeling and I can’t wait.”
Maritz’s impressive second round of 67 left him in tied for second, two clear of fourth place. The highlight was a holed bunker shot on the par-4 17th for a second consecutive birdie.
It was an impressive return to form for the 33-year-old, who endured a disappointing finish at last week’s Joburg Open, where he closed with a 6-over 77, having signed for a 62 on the first day. His qualification also vindicated his decision to return to competitive professional golf after a three-year hiatus in which he worked as a club professional in the United States.
“When I stopped playing full-time three years ago, there were two things I was a bit disappointed about. One was not winning a tournament and the other was not playing in a major,” he said. “So this is just fantastic.”
Schietekat faced a tense moment in the closing stages of his round, when he bogeyed the par-3 16th hole. A birdie on the 18th hole, however, made sure of his Open berth.
“I woke up this morning and said to my dad that after playing the (British) Amateur at Royal St George’s, it would be quite ironic if I played my first major there,” he said. “So I just went out today and fired five-under and it went my way.
“I played this course every Tuesday and Thursday morning, when I was an amateur, and I have just got to know it really well, so I look forward to playing it in competition every year,” added Schietekat, who tied for 17th at the 2009 Joburg Open and tied for 33rd last week.
International Final Qualifying (IFQ) events were introduced in 2004 and are held on five continents to give more players from around the world the chance to gain direct entry into golf's oldest championship. The first IFQ event of 2011 was held in Australia, while the remaining three are set for Feb. 24-25 at Amata Spring in Thailand; May 23 at Gleneagles in Plano, Texas; and June 6 at Sunningdale in England.