Graeme McDowell is braced for an “epic” Open Championship in his home town of Portrush after sealing his place in dramatic fashion.
McDowell needed to finish in the top 10 at the Canadian Open to claim one of the three places on offer to players who were not already exempt but was in danger of missing out after a wayward approach to the 72nd hole.
After chipping from thick rough to 30 feet, however, the former US Open champion holed the par putt to secure a berth in the final major of the year next month.
“I feel hugely relieved,” said McDowell, whose US Open victory at Pebble Beach in 2010 kickstarted the movement to bring the Open back to Northern Ireland for the first time since 1951.
“Just to play a small part in getting The Open back to Royal Portrush was one of the prouder moments in my career, and it would have been extremely bittersweet for me not to be playing in the field.
“I had every belief in myself to get qualifying done over the next three or four weeks and it was great to get it done in week one. I can now focus on getting myself ready for The Open rather than battling for qualifying spots.
“I must have played the course 500 times in my life but not much since the (two) new holes were created, so now I’ll plan a little recce mission to play the course over the coming weeks. It’s going to feel epic on that first tee. The fans are going to offer huge support.”
And they are excited to have the best players in the world come to Portrush. It’s going to be very special.”
McDowell can now focus fully on this week’s US Open at Pebble Beach, where he took advantage of a collapse from 54-hole leader Dustin Johnson nine years ago to win his first major by a single shot from France’s Gregory Havret.
The 39-year-old will partner Johnson and Phil Mickelson in the first two rounds on the Monterey Peninsula, with six-time runner-up Mickelson seeking the victory he needs to complete the career grand slam.