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Sergio García, three time winner of the Andalucía Valderrama Masters (©Real Club Valderrama)

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The road to The 148th Open at Royal Portrush will for the first time in 2019 feature the Andalucia Valderrama Masters, while the South African Open hosted by The City of Joburg, the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the Aberdeen Standard Investment Scottish Open all return to the Qualifying Series.

A total of 46 places in The Open are available through the Series, which provides golfers with opportunities to qualify at events around the world on the European Tour, the US PGA TOUR, the PGA Tour of Australasia, the Asian Tour, the Korean Tour, the Japan Golf Tour and the Sunshine Tour.

Three places at each of the Andalucía Valderrama Masters - which replaces the Open de France - the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open will be available, while the co-sanctioned South African Open also provides an opportunity for European Tour Members. The Andalucia Valderrama Masters will play host to the first Open Qualifying Series Spain. The event held at the famous Real Club Valderrama in Sotogrande has been won by home star Sergio Garcia in back-to-back years. The golf course which lends itself to creating dramatic moments like the 1997 Ryder Cup is sure to host another memorable week as three players can qualify for The 148th Open at Royal Portrush.

Regional Qualifying and Final Qualifying events, meanwhile, will take place at venues throughout Great Britain and Ireland. The Fairmont St Andrews will replace The Renaissance Club as one of the four Final Qualifying venues.

The Emirates Australian Open offered recently the first opportunity for players to secure their place at Royal Portrush, which was the host venue of the 2012 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, next year.  Abraham Ancer, Dimitrios Papadatos and Jake McLeod booked their passage to Northern Ireland.

Three new events on the US PGA TOUR will also feature in the Series for the first time: the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard, the RBC Canadian Open and the Rocket Mortgage Classic.

Johnnie Cole-Hamilton, Executive Director – Championships at The R&A, said, “The race to qualify for The Open at Royal Portrush has well and truly begun and we are eagerly anticipating an exciting series of events as golfers around the world aim to book their place at the Championship.

“We know that there is real excitement at the prospect of The Open returning to Northern Ireland for the first time in almost 70 years and it will undoubtedly act as an extra incentive for those players who are hopeful of teeing it up at the famous Dunluce links in July.”

The South African Open hosted by The City of Joburg will replace the Joburg Open following a merger of the two events. It will be played at Randpark, Johannesburg from 6-9 December this year when three qualifying places will be on offer.

Four places in The Open will be available at both the SMBC Singapore Open, which is being played at Sentosa Golf Club, and The Mizuno Open taking place at The Royal Golf Club in Japan.

On the PGA TOUR, the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard and RBC Canadian Open will each have three qualifying places while two golfers will qualify from the Rocket Mortgage Classic. The last qualifying place will be confirmed at the John Deere Classic on the eve of The 148th Open.

Two places will also be available at the KOLON Korea Open in June.

Sergio Garcia, with the Andalucía Valderrama Masters' trophy (©Real Club Valderrama)

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Sergio Garcia successfully wrapped up his third Andalucía Valderrama Masters hosted by the Sergio Garcia Foundation title with a four-shot victory, after weather delays took the tournament into a fifth day.

The 2017 Masters Tournament winner had been in possession of a three-shot lead when stormy conditions forced play to be suspended on Sunday night after a series of weather delays on the opening three days at Real Club Valderrama had already seen the tournament reduced to 54 holes.

The defending champion - who also won this event in 2011 - powered to victory when play resumed on Monday, carding three birdies and a single bogey in his last 11 holes to finish the week on 12 under par at a course he counts as one of his favourites.

Irishman Shane Lowry recorded his best finish of the season, taking second place at eight under par after a final round 66.

The 31 year old - whose last victory came at the 2015 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational - had given Garcia a scare when he closed the gap to a single shot courtesy of three birdies in a row at the start of the back nine, but a double bogey at the short 15th hole halted his challenge.

Finland’s Mikko Korhonen finished two shots further back at six under par, one ahead of England’s Ashley Chesters. Lee Westwood and Maximillian Kieffer of Germany were then at four under par, alongside another local favourite, seven-time European Tour winner Gonzalo Fernández-Castaño, who secured his European Tour card for 2019 with his share of fifth place.  

Scotland’s Richie Ramsay also kept his card after finishing in a share of 11th on two under par to jump up to 115th on the Race to Dubai Rankings presented by Rolex, with England’s David Horsey clinching the final place.

Sergio Garcia, after making the last putt at the Real Club Valderrama (©Real Club Valderrama)
Sergio Garcia, after making the last putt at the Real Club Valderrama (©Real Club Valderrama)

Player quotes

Sergio Garcia: “To be able to win three times here in Valderrama is a dream come true. It’s so difficult, this golf course is so challenging. For me to be able to shoot three rounds under par with the positions we played all week, all the rain we had, and all the stop and going means a lot. I’m very proud of that.”

“I knew the guys would attack, they would be going after me. This is the kind of golf course that if you’re a little bit off you can struggle but if your game is on it gives you a lot of birdie opportunities. Obviously Shane was playing well, he got close to me, then unfortunately he doubled 15 and then I dug up an extra gap with my birdie on 14 and opened it to four.”

“Becoming a father changes your life for better and we’ve enjoyed every minute of it.  I am very happy to have Angela and Azalea by my side; it was nice to be able to win it for both of them.”

Shane Lowry: “I was going well yesterday but I came back out this morning on fire as well. Birdied ten, 11 and 12, flying, lipped out on 13 and 14 and then hit the worst shot I’ve hit all year on 15. Made double there, but the positive is that it’s probably the only bad shot I hit in that round.”

“A 66 around here and being in contention is pretty good. I’m just disappointed I didn’t put a bit of pressure on Sergio. I had it to within one at one stage and then I made double and he made birdie. That was it. But it’s my best week of the year, serious positives to take from it, and I’ve got a great four weeks coming up now to finish the season.”

Gonzalo Fernández-Castaño got the job done on Monday at Valderrama (©Real Club Valderrama)
Gonzalo Fernández-Castaño got the job done on Monday at Valderrama (©Real Club Valderrama)

Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño: “I’m really, really happy and also quite proud of what I’ve done this week; when I needed to deliver I did, so I’m excited.”

“If I had to choose a tournament to keep my card it’s probably this one. It doesn’t particularly suit my game, but it’s a course I know very well, and also I knew the scoring would not be extremely low.”

“I’m very excited to be back with full status on the European Tour; it’s always been my home tour and will always be. I’ve been away for a few years trying the American dream, unfortunately it didn’t happen for me, but it’s good to be back. I believe I still have a few years ahead to win tournaments, and hopefully 2019 will be one of them.”

Richie Ramsay: “I didn’t sleep the best but I think I came out and proved a lot to myself, arguably under the most pressure I’ve ever felt coming down the stretch, but it’s a course I love which made it far easier to go out there and play.”

“I had some good looks at some great putts on 16 and 17 and then I rolled in a nice little tester at the end from about three feet. A three footer under normal circumstances is very easy, but not when your job is on the line.”

Sergio García and the Andalucía Valderrama Masters trophy, two old acquaintances (©Real Club Valderrama)

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Sergio Garcia remains on course for a third title at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters hosted by the Sergio Garcia Foundation, but will now have to wait until Monday to complete his third and final round after play was suspended due to thunderstorms and heavy rain.

The defending champion - who also won the event in 2011 - is three strokes clear of nearest challenger Lee Westwood at Real Club Valderrama and will have 11 holes remaining when play restarts at 9.10 am.

Home favourite Garcia came into the third round at 10 under par and four shots clear, and after a number of weather delays over the first three days meant that the decision had been taken to reduce the event to 54 holes.

Following another one hour delay on Sunday morning, the 2017 Masters Tournament winner extended his lead to five strokes when he followed up three opening pars with his first birdie of the day at the fourth, courtesy of a brilliant 20-foot putt.

But after Garcia missed his close-range par putt at the fifth, 23-time European Tour winner Westwood followed up three straight birdies from the second with another gain at the eighth to jump to seven under par and reduce the lead to three shots, before play was suspended at 1.49 pm.

Seven-time European Tour winner Gonzalo Fernández-Castaño began the week in 125th place in the Race to Dubai Rankings presented by Rolex, and produced opening rounds of 70 and 68 to give himself a good chance of retaining his European Tour card. He is currently in a share of third place at six under par alongside Ireland’s Shane Lowry.

Finland’s Mikko Korhonen is one shot further back on five under par, with six players then at four under par. That group includes Ireland’s Gavin Moynihan, who got to six under par for the day through 15 holes before play was suspended, with a round that included an eagle, five birdies and just one dropped shot.

Scot Marc Warren and Englishman Matthew Nixon, who both began the week outside the top 116 mark required to retain their playing privileges, are also amongst the group on four under par, while another Scotsman in David Drysdale and Australian Jason Norris are one shot further back at three under par.

Scores

Sergio García leads by four shots at the Andalucía Valderrama Masters (©Real Club Valderrama)

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Defending champion Sergio Garcia opened up a four-shot lead to take command going into the final round of the weather-shortened Andalucía Valderrama Masters hosted by the Sergio Garcia Foundation.

Garcia shot a bogey-free round of 64 to get to ten under par at the end of round two as he seeks his third win at this event, with first-round leader Ashley Chesters of England his nearest challenger at six under par.

A series of weather delays on the first two days prevented Garcia – who also won the 2011 edition of the Andalucía Valderrama Masters - from playing at all on Friday. After more inclement weather disrupted the early starters again on day three, it already been announced that the event would be reduced to 54 holes before he began his second round on Saturday afternoon.

Garcia made a fast start when he got out onto the course, chipping in from just off the second green to pick up his first shot of the day as he went on to fire seven birdies to match his lowest-ever score at Real Club Valderrama.

Spanish pair Alvaro Quiros and Gonzalo Fernández-Castaño and Scot Marc Warren are six shots off the lead, and two behind Chesters, at four under par. Fernández-Castaño and Warren came into the week sitting at 125th and 144th respectively in the Race to Dubai Rankings presented by Rolex and require a strong finish to retain their playing privileges.

Ireland’s Shane Lowry and Englishman Lee Westwood are one shot further back on three under par, with French pair Grégory Bourdy and Raphael Jacquelin amongst a group of eight players at two under par.

RESULTS

Player quotes

Sergio Garcia: “The conditions were pretty favourable; I did see a four or five under if you play well, but it was one of those days when I struck the ball really, really well. Every time I had to get up and down I did and I was very consistent throughout the whole day, which obviously makes a big difference.”

“I love how this course plays; it’s not a long golf course but you have to be very accurate. Unfortunately a lot of the courses we play nowadays it’s just grab your driver, hit it as hard as you can and that’s it. The beautiful thing about this golf course is that you have to think your way around; you pretty much play every club in your bag.”

“Obviously, we would have loved the tournament to go 72 holes but unfortunately we can’t control the weather and it’s been a little bit rough for us this week. We tried to make the best decision possible and tomorrow we have to play hard.”

Ashley Chesters, second at six under par (©Real Club Valderrama)
Ashley Chesters, second at six under par (©Real Club Valderrama)


Ashley Chesters: “There’s only one round to go and I’m not too far off the lead. I’ve got a bit of making up to do, so I don’t know if going to 54 holes makes much difference.”

“There’s always a chance. There’s not a lot of pressure on me. I’ve had a decent year, I’ve got my card sorted, and I’ve got the last few events to aim to get in to if I can have a good week here. I’ve not really got a lot to lose so I can have a go tomorrow and see what happens.”

“I’ll be playing with Sergio, who was always one of my favourite players when I was growing up. I would imagine there will be quite a lot of Spanish people hoping he will win, so I would imagine it will be a bit different tomorrow.”

Marc Warren: “It’s been a long two rounds of golf with all the delays we’ve had, but really pleased with the position I’m in. Four under after two rounds here is very pleasing.”

“I think if you’re in a good position close to the lead, 54 holes benefits you, you have 18 holes left to try to win the tournament. I think everyone understands the position the tournament director has been in this week with the weather. It’s been really tough but the whole staff, from green staff and everyone have done a great job to get us out there. The course is unbelievable. I think anywhere else we would be off already.”

Gonzalo Fernández-Castaño: “My goal this week was to finish in the top 15, that would probably keep my playing rights for next year. I think I gave myself a very good chance of doing that, going into the last round. Even maybe a chance of winning the tournament.

“I’m a member here, but you very rarely play this course in these soft conditions. I was hoping for Valderrama playing at it’s best, and by that I mean when it’s firm, fast, windy. We had none of that this week.

“I’ve won the Italian Open and the Singapore Open, they were both 54 holes, so I do have good memories of playing 54 holes. But I have to give the European Tour staff a lot of credit this week, because I think they did a great job, especially yesterday when they stopped play before we restarted this morning.”

Marc Warren, one of the best in an eventful Friday at Valderrama (©Real Club Valderrama)

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Scotland’s Marc Warren edged closer to the lead before the fourth weather delay of the week brought the second round of the Andalucía Valderrama Masters hosted by the Sergio Garcia Foundation to a halt.

Englishman Ashley Chesters remains the man to catch at Real Club Valderrama on five under par, but he and Gregory Bourdy of France, who is one shot further back alongside Warren, have yet to get their second round under way.

After four hours were lost to stormy conditions on Thursday, three-time European Tour winner Warren - who came into the week in 144th place in the Race to Dubai and battling to keep his playing privileges - returned to complete his opening round on Friday morning, signing for a round of 69.

It was not long before he was back out on course to begin his second round and he started brilliantly, reeling off birdies at the tenth, 16th and 17th to join Chesters on five under par before a bogey at the 18th dropped him into a tie for second alongside Bourdy.

Home favourite Gonzalo Fernández-Castaño is at three under par after seven holes of his second round but he has an eagle putt to come at the long 17th when play resumes on Saturday morning.

He is joined by fellow Spaniard Alvaro Quiros and Welshman Oliver Farr, who are in the early stages of their second rounds, as well as defending champion Sergio Garcia and Australian Jason Scrivener, who are due to get their second rounds under way on Saturday.

Álvaro Quirós, focused on the Andalucía Valderrama Masters (©Real Club Valderrama)
Álvaro Quirós, focused on the Andalucía Valderrama Masters (©Real Club Valderrama)

Player quotes

Marc Warren: “I’m hitting the ball as well as I have in a long time. I gave myself a lot of chances and I’m doing what you’ve got to do around here, which is hitting fairways and greens. I managed to stay patient and got the rewards with being two under for the round this afternoon”.

“There was no warming up, you just hit a few a balls and you’re ready to go. I hit two good shots into ten, which was my first hole this afternoon. Holed a nice putt there and I was just short of the green in two on 11, the par five. I didn’t get up and down there, which was frustrating”.

“I had a good chance on 13 from about ten feet and missed that, a good chance on 14 from about the same and missed that too. Then I holed a good 12-footer on 16 and another good putt just off the back edge on 17, so I felt like I got it back there”.

“Hitting fairways and greens is the most important thing around here, so hopefully I wake up tomorrow with the same swing and swing thoughts as I had today.”

Álvaro Quirós: “I can’t complain about my score. Unfortunately, the weather is making things difficult for us, but we have to compete with what we have and it’s the same for everybody. My game comes and goes. It has been even more inconsistent in the afternoon, but I got a couple of lucky kicks and I scrambled nicely”.

“My mindset is pretty good, but sometimes it’s difficult to face certain shots if you are not 100% confident in your swing. That’s one of the tough things about Valderrama, because you find yourself quite often in impossible places after a decent shot and then you start losing confidence”.

“The course is in spectacular shape considering the amount of water. Playing in these conditions is hard on the course as we don’t allow the water to absorb and we tread on wet greens, but they are holding beautifully, so we have no excuse.”

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