Boro’s O’Neil targeting Open tee-off

Middlesbrough midfielder Gary O’Neil’s big target in 2010 is not the World Cup; it’s the Open at St Andrews.

The target Middlesbrough midfielder Gary O’Neil has his eyes firmly fixed on next summer is not the World Cup – rather it’s the Open Champonship at St Andrews, would you believe it.

O’Neil – who plays off scratch – is ready to have a crack next year at the Open qualifiers in an attempt to secure a place in what he sees as the most prestigious golf tournament in the world.

Despite being just 26 and very much in the prime of his footballing career, O’Neil is seriously looking to make it to St Andrews.

“There have been a few sportsmen who have had a go at golf over the years (without really making it), but it won’t stop me trying,” O’Neil told Sky Sports on Tuesday.

“I am not expecting to make it to St Andrews, but if I do I’ll have some explaining to do to the boss. I’ll be fine to do first-round qualifying because it is right in the middle of summer, so it is a shot in the dark.

“I am quite good in front of a crowd as it helps me concentrate.

“I have played a few links courses like Royal Birkdale, a great course, Troon and Royal St George’s. I shot 75 at Birkdale the first time around without knowing anything about it. If I play all right I am confident I will do OK, but if I have a bad day I could look silly.

“I can spray it around occasionally with the driver. There is the odd bad one in there which I want to get rid of. I don’t want to spend too much time practising as I don’t want it to get in the way of the real job, especially as I am playing twice a week in the Championship, so I haven’t actually been able to play that much lately.

“But I watch golf all the time, especially when Tiger Woods is playing. I am a massive Woods fan. I love anyone who is the best at what they do and that includes Tiger and I suppose Roger Federer. Basically I love anyone who really excels.

“Tiger’s 14 Majors is some achievement and at every Open I sit there and watch every shot.”

O’Neill benefits from his surroundings, which include a new Championship course adjacent to Middlesbrough’s training ground.

“I play a lot at the chairman Steve Gibson’s new course in Hurworth, which is very long but a fantastic venue, one of the best,” he said.

“The strength of my game is definitely my putting. I average 27 or 28 putts a round. I am big into my stats, which is exactly what the pros do.
“All the pros I play with I drive them mad because I can be wayward off the tee, but I always chip on and sink the putt to halve the hole every time.

“If I had a pound for every time I told them, ‘You drive for show, putt for dough’ with a smile on my face, I’d be the richest bloke in Britain.”

O’Neil will begin his qualifying quest at the London Golf Club in Kent next year.