Trio secures spots after Down Under win

Australasian IFQ medalist Aaron Townsend (center) will be joined by Ashley Hall (left) and Nicholas Cullen at the Open Championship in July. (The Royal & Ancient)

Aaron Townsend, Nick Cullen and Ashley Hall have earned their places at Royal Lytham by finishing in the top three in the Australasian edition of IFQ.

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Australians Aaron Townsend, Nick Cullen and Ashley Hall qualified for the 2012 Open Championship on Wednesday at the Australasian edition of International Final Qualifying (IFQ).

In unseasonal conditions at Kingston Heath that saw wind gusts of more than 55 mph and lightning storms, players were forced off the course for more than two hours before Townsend eventually won the two-day, 36-hole event with a 4-under-par 140.

“It was such a grind out there today. It was so hard to hit the right club any kind of distance so it was just a guessing game,” said Townsend. “Thankfully my short game was brilliant, I was able to hit the ball up and down a lot and just keep things going along in the right direction.

“It’s fantastic. It’s going to finally sink in over tonight and tomorrow but I couldn’t be happier.”

Also finding the conditions challenging were Cullen and Hall who, along with Peter Senior, finished tied for second with 1-under-par totals.

Senior, who finished his round earlier in the day, had an anxious wait in the clubhouse as Hall went on to birdie the 18th to join him on 143. Cullen bogeyed his final hole to give up his outright second place and join Senior and Hall in a playoff.

Just one playoff hole, the seventh, was needed to decide the final two qualifiers as Senior’s par was not good enough to match birdies by Cullen and Hall as the pair booked their places at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

Hall was delighted to have finally qualified after several failed attempts over previous years.

“It’s amazing,” said Hall. “I have been thinking about this ever since they brought the IFQ out to Australia so I have had a few goes at this, at least five or six, so I am pretty pumped right now.

“This is exactly like the Open is going to be, my short game is going to be important so I just have to stay pretty patient and I was patient today.”

For all three, this will be their first trip to a major championship. Cullen, the youngest of the trio at 27, is not intimidated by the prospect.

“I really haven’t had time to think about it too much. Of course you always dream of playing majors when you are a kid and playing next to the best guys in the world and I am just looking forward to a chance to do that,” said Cullen. “I think I’ll go well, I like the wind and as long as I work hard I think I will do alright.”

The Open will be held from July 19-22 at Royal Lytham & St. Anne's in northern England.

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. After this event in Australia, future qualiifers will be held Jan. 18-19 at Royal Johannesburg & Kensington in Johannesburg, South Africa; 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.