Stephen Ames nearly leaves, shoots 61

PLANO, Texas -- Stephen Ames shot 71 on Monday morning, 11 shots behind leader Harris English, and knew it was going to take a tremendous second-round score to earn one of the eight spots up for grabs in the British Open qualifier at Gleneagles Country Club.

Ames didn't withdraw despite the disappointing score, but he did set a goal for himself.

"I was ready to walk off when I looked at the numbers and I went, 'You know what? If after nine holes we don't have it four or five under, we're going home,'" Ames said. "After nine holes, we were five under."

He finished with a 61 and is all but assured of being one of the eight players (from a field of 78) to make the 2012 British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

"You set a goal and off you go," Ames said. "If you achieve it, you achieve it. If you don't, you don't."

Ames birdied four straight holes -- Nos. 16, 17, 18 and 1. He started his round at No. 9 (groups started at either No. 10 or No. 1 for the qualifier) and it didn't take him long to get things going. He had an eagle at No. 10, making a 25-foot putt from the fringe. Ames ended up with eight birdies, the eagle and a bogey.

He was excited about returning to the British Open, his favorite tournament. Ames has had his name on the front page of the leaderboard a few times at the British Open. He's played in 10 British Opens and his best finish was a tie for fifth in 1997. His other top 10 was a tie for seventh in 2008. He hasn't played in the event since 2009. Ames last played in the Open at Royal Lytham in 1996. He finished tied for 55th.

"For me the highlight of playing professional golf is playing the British Open," said Ames, who lives in Canada. "It's by far the best, I think. I don't think anything else comes close."

Ames said he knows Royal Lytham & St. Annes well and is looking forward to playing it.

"I love British Open golf," Ames said. "It's natural. You can hit 19 different golf shots from the same spot. It's different kind of golf and we don't play that over here a lot. Over there, there's lots of imagination."

Ames admitted that he hadn't played well in 2012. He had missed seven of 12 cuts on the PGA Tour and his best finish was a tie for 16th. Ames said his ball striking has improved the past few months, but his putting was holding him back. That wasn't the case Monday. He said he had 29 putts in his first round and 23 in his second round.

Ames didn't make the cut at the HP Byron Nelson Championship and instead played Vaquero and Dallas National, two of the top local courses, over the weekend. He played in high winds Saturday at Vaquero and shot 5-under. He was also 5-under Sunday at Dallas National, so he arrived at Gleneagles with confidence.

Ames altered the grip on his putter slightly over the weekend and saw some immediate results. He's got the next two weeks off and will try to continue the good vibes generated Monday as he prepares for tournaments in June and July leading into the British Open.