Simon Khan put his playoff defeat in the BMW PGA Championship behind him to secure one of the 12 available qualifying spots at the U.S. Open 36-hole sectional qualifier at Walton Heath Golf Club in Surrey, England on May 27.
Khan admitted he had a sleepless night after losing to Italian Matteo Manassero on the fourth extra hole at Wentworth in The European Tour’s flagship event on Sunday.
But he showed few side-effects in the wake of that disappointment as he led the 94 hopefuls competing for 12 spots in the qualifying event for next month’s U.S. Open Championship at Merion Golf Club.
The 40 year old followed an opening round of 67 on the Old Course with a 70 on the New Course for a 7-under-par total of 137, finishing one stroke clear of Englishman Paul Casey and South African Jaco Van Zyl.
After birdieing the first two holes, Khan bogeyed the fifth before picking up another shot on the eighth. He then made back-to-back bogeys immediately after the turn, before hitting back with a superb run of three consecutive birdies from No. 12.
Although he dropped a shot on the 16th hole, Khan had enough left in the tank to par the closing two holes and secure his third appearance in the U.S. Open after previously playing in 2009 and 2010.
“I’m delighted with today,” said Khan. It was tough out there with a lot of cross winds. I had a little wobble around the turn but then settled down with three birdies in a row. I dropped one on 16, but I was beginning to flag by then.
“Yesterday I did everything I could. I would not have done anything different but it didn’t work out. When I won the BMW PGA Championship there was a downside in that I shut off a little bit after reaching one of my all-time goals of winning a tournament like that. Hopefully, this time I can look at it the other way round and kick on from here. I don’t know a lot about Merion, but it looks fantastic from the pictures I’ve seen. It looks quite tricky and a bit shorter, which hopefully will suit me.”
Former Ryder Cup and Walker Cup player Casey produced the round of the day, firing a superb 64 on the New Course after an opening 74 on the Old Course to seal his place at Merion.
“I played lovely today,” said Casey, who is slowly returning to form after recovering from a shoulder injury. “It was the first qualifier I’ve played, so I didn’t know what to expect. We had great crowds and it was a golf course I played a lot as a kid, so I’m ecstatic to come through.
“For me, the U.S. Open is right up there along with The Open Championship. I don’t know a lot about Merion but I’ve played a lot of U.S. Opens and I love them. I know it is going to be tough but I’m looking forward to it.”
Van Zyl joined Casey on six under par following rounds of 71 and 67 to earn his debut in a major championship.
“It’s great to be playing in my first major,” he said. “I qualified earlier in the year for the U.S. PGA [Championship], but to get in this is fantastic. I’m just going to go and enjoy and not have any expectations.”
Morten Ørum Madsen finished fourth at five under par, while Australian Marcus Fraser and Sweden’s Peter Hedblom, who finished tied 11th in the 2005 U.S. Open at Pinehurst, also sealed their spots on four under par, along with 22-year-old rookie Eddie Pepperell of England.
Pepperell continued the form he showed in finishing tied sixth in the BMW PGA Championship this past weekend and will now continue his progression at the top level by making his debut in a major championship at Merion.
“I didn’t feel too tired today, which I thought I might have done after Wentworth,” he said. “I putted well again and just kept trying to do the things I did last week.
“It’s a massive tournament and it’s another opportunity to play at the highest level, which is something I’ve not done before. It will be a great experience for me. I enjoy tough courses and tough conditions so hopefully I can play well. It’s the next step up for me.”
Madsen was the last man on the course and his success meant a six-man playoff for the final five spots, involving 2012 European Ryder Cup captain and two-time Masters champion José María Olazábal, Argentine Estanislao Goya, Scotland’s Chris Doak, Swede Rikard Karlberg and the English pair of John Parry and David Howell.
At the first playoff hole, Olazábal, Howell and Parry all made birdie to progress; Parry securing his major championship debut and Olazábal and Howell earning their first U.S. Open appearances since 2007 and 2011, respectively.
Olazábal said: “I’m very pleased to be going to Merion. It’s not very often you are involved in a six-man playoff so I’m delighted to get through and get a place in the U.S. Open.”
Howell said: “I’m delighted to get through. They were generous odds in the playoff but someone has to miss out, so thankfully I made it through. Things have been going better for me the last year or so but you want to be playing in the Major Championship. From what I hear Merion is a brilliant course and hopefully I can do well.”
Doak, Goya and Karlberg all made pars on the subsequent two additional holes before Karlberg struck a tree with his tee shot on the fourth and could only make bogey, meaning the Swede was the unfortunate man to miss out. He will be the first alternate.
J.B. Hansen, of Denmark, earned the second alternate spot in a playoff.
Both Goya and Doak will play in the U.S. Open Ch for the first time, with Doak also making his debut in any of the four majors after coming through 40 holes at Walton Heath.
“I’m really excited about it,” said Doak. “I’ve got one of the golden tickets and it is fantastic. I actually lost in a playoff for The Open Championship last year, so it’s nice to actually get to a major.”
Edoardo Molinari, of Italy, the 2005 U.S. Amateur champion at Merion, shot 142 and was one shot out of the playoff for the final five spots.