Three earn places at Lytham via Africa

Grant Veenstra (center) earned medalist honors in the African IFQ, and will be joined by Adilson da Silva (l) and Andrew Georgiou at the British Open this summer.

South Africans Grant Veenstra and Andrew Georgiou and Brazil's Adilson da Silva will play in the Open Championship after claiming the three spots up for grabs in the African edition of International Final Qualifying in Johannesburg.

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- South Africans Grant Veenstra and Andrew Georgiou will join Brazil’s Adilson da Silva at the Open Championship this summer after claiming the three spots up for grabs in the African edition of International Final Qualifying (IFQ) on Thursday.

A total of 51 players entered the two-day, 36-hole tournament at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club with the hope of emulating previous IFQ Africa qualifiers including 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen -- who was an IFQ qualifier in 2004 -- and book a spot at Royal Lytham & St. Annes this July.

"We all dream about playing in the Open while growing up. Every golfer wants to play amongst the best, to play at the highest level, and I am so excited for this chance to test myself and play with golf’s best,” said Veenstra, who booked his place with a final-round 67 for a 6-under-par total of 138.

He leapt into contention with a string of birdies from the sixth to the ninth after dropping a shot at the fifth, and having carded an opening birdie at the first, Veenstra reached the turn at 4 under for the day.

“This event is very stressful, because you are playing for something very special,” he said. “I attacked the course today and got off to a good start -- you can’t ask for much more than four-under at the turn.”

He continued his charge with birdies at the 13th and 15th, but was stopped short by a double bogey at the 16th before carding a final birdie at 18.

“On 16 I hit my poorest shot of the day, landed it right in the water and proceeded to make 5 there. But then the last shot on the 18th was my best shot this year – I hit it from the long grass and landed it 25 foot from the pin,” Veenstra said. “The putt stopped just in the teeth, but that was the best recovery I’ve made from the rough. When I stood over the ball I knew it was then or never.”

Shooting 5 under for the second round took Veenstra’s tally to a clubhouse lead of 6 under, which held throughout the day.

Da Silva looked to have blown his chances when he double-bogeyed 16, but his score of 5 under was enough to earn him a place at his third Open.

“It hasn’t sunk in completely. It’s ridiculous how excited I am to play in The Open. Maybe it will be third-time lucky,” said da Silva, whose opening 68 anchored his position on the leaderboard.

“After that round I am glad to be able to breathe again,” he added. “That double bogey on the 16th really caught my attention. That added a lot of pressure over the last few holes.”

The Brazilian began the second 18 well and birdied Nos. 1, 7 and 8 to top the leaderboard ahead of his second nine. A bogey at the par-3 12th was cancelled out by a birdie at the 14th before his double-drop at the 16th, but experience paid off and da Silva saved par over his last two holes.

Andrew Georgiou, at 25 the youngest of the qualifiers, burnt through the back stretch in 32 strokes to shoot 4 under for the second round and claim the third and final place.

“It’s incredible – I can’t believe it. I gave it my all and to be on top is great. The Open is such an awesome tournament,” said an elated Georgiou. “It has always been my dream to play in an event of this magnitude and to see it coming true is hard to describe. It’s time to head for the UK and play with the best, I can’t ask for more.”

Georgiou birdied the first and looked steady through the front nine, dropping a lone shot at the fourth but recovering with a birdie at No. 8. He reached the turn at 1 under for the day, then took a more aggressive approach on the back nine, which led to birdies at the 12th, 15th, 16th and 18th, despite a lone dropped shot at the 14th.

“I made a lot of birdies down the stretch. My game plan was to go for it, to hit driver often and go for the flags,” he said. “I started and finished well, so I couldn’t ask for more.”

It was a different story, however, for overnight leader Tim Sluiter. The Dutchman posted a superb 66 on Day 1 and began brightly with an eagle at the first, but an 8-over-par back nine – which included a 7 at the par-3 16th – on his way to a 78 ended his chances.

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. Three players qualified for the British Open at the Australasian qualifier earlier this month, and future qualifiers will be held March 1-2 at Amata Spring Country Club in Bangkok, Thailand; May 21 at Gleneagles Golf & Country Club in Dallas, Texas; and June 25 at Sunningdale Golf club in Berkshire, England.