SOUTHPORT, England (Reuters) – Welshman Stuart Manley closed his round with an eagle and a birdie to become the early clubhouse leader with a two-under-par 68 at the British Open on Thursday.
In his first appearance at a major the 38-year-old, who at 16 had a trial to play soccer with Manchester United, chipped in from the bunker on Royal Birkdale’s par-five 17th and then completed his round by rolling in a 40ft putt.
It was a surreal start for the world number 520, who said he went to bed early with earplugs on Wednesday night to prevent his baby from waking him up.
The plugs didn’t work and he was up at 3am tending to his six-month old son – but everything else went to plan.
“It happened so quick. I eagled 17, birdied 18. So it hasn’t really sunk in, I don’t think, yet,” he said after completing his round.
“….I think I’ll sleep a lot better tonight. I’m really pretty tired.”
Manley’s 68 was subsequently bettered by England’s Ian Poulter, who shot a rock-solid 67.
The Welshman, who qualified for the tournament by finishing joint second in the Johannesburg Open in February, had to overcome the worst of the early conditions when he teed off at 6:45 a.m. (0545 GMT) amid heavy rain.
“It was shocking,” he said. “I was quite nervous on the first tee. It was lashing down with rain and I was thinking ‘why do I have to do this?’. But I just about made it through the hole.”
Conditions eased as his round progressed and Manley found the confidence to post an impressive 68 after making the cut just once in 10 tournaments since securing his Open place in South Africa.
After his round, Manley also revealed he once played junior football against former internationals Michael Owen and Craig Bellamy, of England and Wales respectively, but chose to make his career in golf instead.
“With football I felt like I was playing for a contract, whereas this is in my own hands,” he said,
“If the scouts or the manager didn’t like me, I could have been kicked off or not offered a contract. I think in golf nobody can take away your scorecard.”
Reporting by Neil Robinson; Editing by Christian Radnedge and John Stonestreet