Steve Alker delighted with classy Open effort

TOP SHOWING: After struggling on the tour, Steve Alker has once again surprised by qualifying for a major, this year the US Open.
TOP SHOWING: After struggling on the tour, Steve Alker has once again surprised by qualifying for a major, this year the US Open.

It will come as no surprise that New Zealand golfer Steve Alker was in a buoyant mood yesterday.

As he was winging his way to the airport to return to his base in the United States, the Hamilton professional reflected on a “thrilling” week at the British Open, which saw him finish in a share of 19th and pocket $102,000, twice as much as he has totalled from 11 tournaments on the United States' second-tier tour since the start of the year.

“It was a fun week, I really enjoyed the atmosphere and everything. It was thrilling,” the 40-year-old former NZ PGA Championship winner said as he left the Royal Lytham & St Annes course in Lancashire.

“It's right up there, in terms of my career. It's hard to top winning, but the week has been brilliant.

"Qualifying itself was a big deal but to have a good week on top of that, you can't beat playing in the British Open. It's one of the iconic sporting events in the world.”

Alker's previous two major championship appearances, at the 1998 and 2007 Opens, ended in missed cuts, but he was a model of consistency throughout the entire event on the tough inland links course.

He was the first Kiwi to play in the Open since 2009, qualifying by winning a two-round tournament in west Lancashire while in Britain for personal reasons three weeks ago. Making the week more memorable was the fact his wife, Tanya, was on his bag.

“We kept it fun. I've played in two other Opens and not enjoyed it as much. It was just a great week. I'm just pleased I could put up a decent showing for the Kiwis.”

Alker had rounds of 69, 69, 72 and 71 for a one-over total, which he shared with classy Americans Bill Haas and Hunter Mahan, and former Open champion Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa.

“The golf course was such that if you didn't get off to a good start, you were grinding. I never really got a super start, but I hung in there and played the back nine pretty well. I finished three of my rounds off really solidly.”

He hopes to take his form back to the US, where he will have a busy schedule on the tour during the next four months, starting with the Nationwide Children's Hospital Invitational in Columbus on Friday (NZ time).

Alker is currently 67th in the order of merit and requires a top-25 finish at season's end to earn a PGA Tour card for 2013.

“I feel I'm playing a lot better, starting to putt better and my game is coming around, but you've got to go very low every week over there.

"I've started to be more consistent but I'm looking to put four rounds together. In terms of competing against these guys and feeling comfortable on the course, that's the biggest thing that I'll take out of this week.”

South African Ernie Els claimed a dramatic one-shot victory over Adam Scott after the Australian bogeyed his final four holes, and Els birdied four of the last nine, including the 18th, to finish at seven-under par.