Millar, Barnes and Kulacz earn spots in British Open at Australian qualifier

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Kurt Barnes (left), Rick Kulacz and Matt Millar (right) of Australia posed with the Claret Jug after finishing as the top three qualifiers at Kingston Heath.


Published: Tuesday, January 11, 2011 | 12:25 p.m.

Australians Matt Millar, Kurt Barnes and Rick Kulacz have earned their places in the 2011 British Open at Royal St. George's in July after they finished in the top three spots in the Australasian edition of International Final Qualifying at Kingston Heath Golf Club on Tuesday.

Despite a bogey-bogey finish on the 7,062-yard par-72 Melbourne Sandbelt course, the 34-year-old Millar’s 10-under-par total of 134 left him clear at the top of the leaderboard in the one-day, 36-hole qualifier, and secured his first appearance in a major championship. Barnes finished one stroke back on 9 under par after the two rounds for the field of 51 contestants.
The third and final Open berth was settled by a playoff between Kulacz and Stephen Leaney after the pair finished tied on 8 under. Both parred the first extra hole, but Kulacz prevailed on the second after Leaney missed his putt for par. Like Millar, 25-year-old Kulacz will be making his major championship debut at Sandwich in July.
For Canberra's Millar, the result crowns a memorable week in which his wife gave birth to their second child, Charlotte.
“My wife gave birth on Wednesday so I haven’t had a chance to play much golf and practice, so maybe that’s the secret for me,” he explained. “I can’t wait. This has been a goal I set this year and it’s good to achieve one, so now I can move on to the next one.
“I’ve played a bit of golf over in Britain when I was on Tour but never at Royal St George’s, so I’m really looking forward to the experience.”
Barnes, 29, ensures his second Open start in as many years, and the New South Welshman is determined to put lessons learned in 2010 at St Andrews to good use.
“Kingston Heath has really suited my game over the last couple of years. I put in some hard work and it’s really paying off,” said Barnes. “It’s great. It was my aim to qualify and to put in some hard yards this year, so I can get over there and play well and make the most of the opportunity.”
The third of the qualifiers, Kulacz, was thrilled with the result, particularly as he has not been playing his best golf of late.
“I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I would be on the first tee of the playoff, but I have been battling hooks, so I wouldn’t have been surprised if I’d hit it 70 meters left,” he said. “My first major, it’s going to be great. An Australian has won there before, so I’m really looking forward to what it’s all about.”
Peter Fowler and Peter Senior, both now 51, missed out by two and nine shots respectively and others unable to survive the 36-hole test included Craig Parry and Peter O'Malley.

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 next IFQ event of 2011 takes place in Africa on Jan. 19-20 at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club.
The remaining three IFQ events 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.