The 149th Open: Marcus Armitage qualifies with final-hole birdie at SA Open
By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 12/01/20 7:26pm
Marcus Armitage had plenty to celebrate at the end of an entertaining week in South Africa, and top of the list was booking his place in the field for The 149th Open.
Armitage endeared himself to the fans in Johannesburg with his character and performance in the South African Open, where he stormed into contention with a third-round 62 but was unable to keep pace with Branden Grace on the final day.
But with Grace already confirmed as champion, Armitage still had much to play for as he eyed up a place in next week's Abu Dhabi Championship as well as booking his spot for the final major of the year at Royal St George's.
He came to the 72nd hole tied with Jack Senior and Jaco Ahlers on 15 under, and only a birdie would be good enough to get Armitage into The Open due to his lower world ranking, but he was up to the challenge and holed from 15 feet to snatch outright third place.
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"It's pretty awesome to qualify for The Open and not have to go to St Annes Old Links for Final Qualifying again!" said Armitage. "What a day - and what an 18th hole.
"I had an idea, but I didn't fully know what was at stake. I just knew that if I birdied, I would get into Abu Dhabi next week and into The Open. It was some buzz."
The 32-year-old has played in only one major in his career, The Open at Carnoustie in 2018, although he had to play through the pain of a shoulder injury he sustained while taking part in an ill-advised parachute jump the previous week.
"I was injured when I played at Carnoustie because I went skydiving 10 days before," he added. "I won't be doing that again this year - I'll be preparing for Royal St George's and looking to win it.
"It's the best championship on the planet for me. So, it's everything - that is the dream. People say to you, 'you're on The European Tour - you're living the dream'; no the dream is when I've the Claret Jug in my pocket and I'm off to find the other three majors.
"I'm looking forward to pegging it up against the players that I want to be pegging it up against every week and being in that environment of The Open. It's just another opportunity to go in there and showcase my talents!"
Grace had been in danger of missing The Open for the first time since the tournament was last held at Royal St George's in 2011, but he was delighted not only to end two years without a win but to also cement his place for Sandwich in July.
"It's amazing, obviously it's great to win back in South Africa and it's a big bonus to go back and play in The Open," said Grace, who played his way into the major history books at Royal Birkdale in 2017 when he became the first player in history to fire a 62.
"I've got great memories of that 62, but I was a little bit sour at the end of last year knowing then that I hadn't secured my spot, but after this week knowing that I've done it, it's a great highlight and something great to look forward to.
"I played in my first Amateur Championship at Royal St George's. It didn't treat me too well but it's a great golf course. It's a ball striker's golf course, you have to be on top of your game. Any Open you play, you have to be on top of your game but I am just stoked to go back - and what a day it has been.
"It's obviously a dream to win The Open - and if you were to ask me which one I would want to win it's that one. It suits me the most with the type of golf I play having grown up in the conditions and hitting it low. I've been close so if I can just put the head down and grind and maybe get a week like this, I'll be right up there."