Colin Montgomerie and José María Olazábal, Europe’s former and current Ryder Cup Captains, were in major contention to earn berths at the US Open Championship after carding morning rounds of 68 and 67 respectively in the International Sector Qualifier at Walton Heath Golf Club.
Olazábal posted six birdies and a solitary bogey on the New Course, whilst Montgomerie recovered from an opening bogey with an eagle three at the third hole, before notching four birdies to record the third lowest score of the morning on the Old Course.
Frenchman Grégory Bourdy and Sweden’s Alex Noren, who will defend his ISPS Handa Wales Open title this week, went one lower than Montgomerie with rounds of 67.
On the Old Course, there were four rounds of 66, by South African George Coetzee, Finland’s Mikko Ilonen, Korean Sihwan Kim and Spaniard Pablo Larrazábal.
Olazábal, who will hope to retain The Ryder Cup won by Montgomerie’s European Team in Wales in 2010, was pleasantly surprised by a performance which sets up the prospect of a 19th appearance in the US Open Championship.
The two-time Masters Tournament champion said: “A 67 is much better than I expected, but the conditions are perfect – there’s hardly any wind, and the course is very firm so you’re getting a lot of run on the fairways. But you still have to put the ball in the right places, and I managed to do that this morning. It gives me a very good chance for the afternoon – if I can play as well again on the Old Course, I will be very happy.”
Montgomerie was equally delighted with his display, which came over what is traditionally the tougher of the two courses.
He said: “The conditions are perfect, and luckily I managed to take advantage of them. I’ve probably got to shoot another 68 this afternoon to ensure I qualify. It’d be great to play another Major, but I can’t afford to get ahead of myself. The highlight was my eagle on the third hole, where I drove the green. Nothing to do with the firm course – it was pure power!
“It’s a bit of a rat race, and the field is very strong – it’s almost like a full European Tour event. There are winners everywhere, so you have to play very well to qualify. Hopefully another four under this afternoon would be good enough.”
Last year, Noren successfully qualified for the US Open Championship before his victory at The Celtic Manor Wales Resort completed a dream week, and the Swede is now hoping lightning strikes twice.
He said: “An eagle on the last is a very nice way to finish. I holed out with a wedge from around 70 metres, so that was a big bonus. But I played very well, so maybe I deserved a bit of luck. The course is playing very firm, so if you can drive it straight then you won’t have much club in your hand for your second shot. So that makes life much easier. I qualified here last year and then went on to win in Wales, so if I can do the same, I’ll be a very happy man!”
Coetzee continued the fine form he showed on Sunday, when he closed with a joint best-of-the-day round of 66 at the BMW PGA Championship to finish in a share of 21st place.
The burly South African: “It’s always nice to play well and then back it up the next day, so I’m very pleased. The weather’s perfect again, which helps for a guy like me who’s used to these conditions in South Africa. I came here last year and didn’t do very well, but it helped that I’d played the courses before.
“I almost had a hole in one on the second hole but then missed the birdie putt, so that would’ve been the highlight if it’d gone in! There was nothing special out there – it was just good, solid golf. Hopefully I can keep it going this afternoon.”
A total of 11 places are available for the second Major of the 2012 season, which will be held at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, America, from June 14-17.