Kevin LeBlanc moves a step closer to qualifying for The Open


Two years after claiming the Junior Open title at West Lancashire Ireland's Kevin LeBlanc took a step closer to securing his place in The 145th Open at Royal Troon.

In blustery conditions the 17-year-old Irish international was the only player in the field to break par at The Island – one of 13 Regional Qualifying venues – as he took his place among those who made it through to next Tuesday's 36-hole Final Qualifying.

LeBlanc's one-under-par 70 earned him a two stroke victory and he is joined by last week's semi-finalist at The Amateur Championship at Royal Porthcawl, Paul McBride (73) who, like LeBlanc, is a member at The Island.

Over 1,300 golfers had hopes of teeing it up at Royal Troon through Regional Qualifying and in one week’s time, 72 competitors will line up at each of the four Final Qualifying courses - Gailes Links, Hillside, Royal Cinque Ports and Woburn - with 12 of the 288 earning the chance to join the world's best golfers at Royal Troon on July 14-17.

Heavy rain in some parts of the country yesterday caused delays and meant that play was completed at three of the venues, Sandy Lodge, Wildernesse and Little Aston, on Tuesday morning.

The lowest round across the 13 venues was produced by Joseph Long (Lansdown) whose five-under-par 67 earned him a two-shot victory at Remedy Oak.

At Sandy Lodge Daniel Williams made a hole-in-one at the par-three 8th hole on his way to qualifying with a one-under-par round of 69. Based in Marbella, where he coaches aspiring Tour professionals, it was the 38-year-old's 9th career hole-in-one, but certainly his most timely.

The same venue saw veteran Scot Raymond Russell, who finished tied fourth in The Open at Royal Birkdale in 1998 and tied 38th at Royal Troon the year before, survive a five-man play-off for four places.

Ian Poulter will not be at Royal Troon after announcing earlier this month that a foot injury will keep him out of the game until the autumn, but his older brother Danny might still represent the family after also qualifying at Sandy Lodge.

2009 Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup player Dale Whitnell's three-under-par 69 led the way at Frilford Heath, prompting memories of his qualification four years ago, which led to a tied 60th finish at Royal Lytham & St Annes.

There was not such good news for 2014 qualifier John Singleton, however. The factory worker who made headlines at Royal Liverpool was unable to repeat his dream journey this year, missing out after a three-over-par round of 75 at West Lancashire.

Key quotes:

Daniel Williams – qualifier at Sandy Lodge with joint best score of one-under-par 69, including a hole-in-one:

“I've been close to getting to The Open in the past, once missing out by one shot.

“The hole-in-one was a knock down 50 degree wedge. It was my ninth career ace and I also had a birdie-two on the 7th.”

Alasdair MacDougall – qualifier at Panmure with a joint best score of level-par 70:

“It was very tough conditions out there, very windy and in an unusual direction. I had a very steady round with two birdies and two bogies. I kept the ball in play and didn't do anything wrong.

“I'm actually a member of Gailes Links. I would be looking forward to it if I play there as it’s my home course.

“I did Regional Qualifying two years ago at Bruntsfield and missed out by a shot so this is quite exciting. This is a great experience, eventually I want to turn professional, but there's still 36 tough holes to go.”

Julian Cesar Nicolosi – qualifier from Buenos Aires, Argentina at Panmure, via a play-off after a round of two-over-par 72:

“I am very happy. It was a very long way from home to here. It is my first time here and my first time playing links golf. Maybe I can get to The Open. I will try. It would be a dream come true.”