Three new faces to appear at 2011 Open Championship

Three new names will appear on the leaderboard at Royal St George’s in July as Floris de Vries, Martin Maritz, and Neil Schietekat filled the three spots available at the Open International Final Qualifier – Africa event.

The Netherlands’ De Vries made it look like a stroll in the park in the end as he signed off for a three-under par 68 for a 36-hole total of 10-under par 132 on the 7,590-yard (6,940-metre) par-71 East Course at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club.

He did get off to a shaky start with two bogeys in the first three holes, but consolidated his position at the top with five birdies at regular intervals including a fine birdie on the par-five 18th hole.

“It feels really great,” said the 21-year old. “I sort of knew after yesterday that I could do it as I was playing really well, but it’s a great feeling and I can’t wait. I wish it was next week already.”

For Maritz it was the perfect gift after a nightmare finish at last week’s Joburg Open where he closed off with a six-over par 77 after shooting 62 on the first day. His luck seemed to turn today though, when, after a flock of birds flew over him on the 15th green causing him to miss a two-foot par putt, he holed a magnificent bunker shot on the par-four 17th after making birdie on the previous hole.

It has also now vindicated his decision to return to professional golf after a three-year hiatus where he worked as an on-course professional in the US.

“When I stopped playing full time three years ago, there were two things I was a bit disappointed about. One was not winning a tournament and the other was not playing in a major,” he said. “So this is just fantastic.”

Schietekat also faced a tense moment in the closing stages of his round when he bogeyed the par-three 16th hole but made amends on the 18th hole with a closing birdie on a course which he is only too familiar with after playing many times here during his amateur years.

“I woke up this morning and said to my dad that after playing the British Amateur at Royal St George’s, it would be quite ironic if I played my first major there,” he said. “So I just went out today and fired five-under and it went my way.

“I played this course every Tuesday and Thursday morning when I was an amateur and I have just got to know it really well so I look forward to playing it in competition every year.”

This has certainly showed in Schietekat’s performances at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington with him finishing tied for 17th at last year’s Joburg Open and tied for 33rd last week. This little triumph just put the icing on the cake for him.

Overnight co-leader Justin Walters was not so fortunate today and went 10 shots worse than yesterday to slip into a tie for fourth two shots behind the top-three.

De Vries, Maritz, and Schietekat will now face an exciting six months’ preparation before heading over to Sandwich in Kent, England for their first Open Championship from the 14th to the 17th July 2011.

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