Watts plots Japanese route to the Open

Brian Watts, the injury-hit American who has fallen off the golfing map since losing a play-off for the Open 10 years ago, has found a way to get back to Royal Birkdale this July.

Brian Watts, the injury-hit American who has fallen off the golfing map since losing a play-off for the Open 10 years ago, has found a way to get back to Royal Birkdale this July.

It involves a return to the country where the 42-year-old first came to fame - Japan.

“I’ve been very fortunate to get an invitation to the Mizuno Open next month,” Watts told PA Sport.

“It’s a good tournament in itself, but it also offers places in the British Open and for obvious reasons that’s a real incentive for me.”

The leading four non-exempt players in the event on June 19-22 all qualify for Birkdale and after what he has been through it would be a dream come true for Watts if he can grab one of them.

“I wanted to play in the qualifier in Singapore in March, but since I don’t have any world ranking points I couldn’t enter and the same applies to the qualifiers in America and Europe, so Japan is my only hope.”

Watts, a 12-time winner on the Japanese circuit in the 1990s, produced a memorable bunker shot on the final hole to tie with Mark O’Meara on the Open’s last visit to Birkdale.

O’Meara won the play-off, but second place was still life-changing for Watts. He earned £188,000 and since it counted towards the US Tour money list he was able to move back from Japan and stay with his wife at the very time they were starting a family.

Things went well for the next three seasons, but then the injuries started.

“I had two herniated discs in my lower back and a meniscus tear in my left knee, but I received a lot of bad advice and spent five years trying to figure it out.

“I had one operation, but surgery does not restore you to the way you were made and we found out in the end that my left hip was the culprit.

“So I had four or five years playing hurt all the time and for the last three years I’ve not played much at all.

“But I’m more optimistic now because my body is functioning well and I’ve got three events coming up in Japan.

“At 42 I know it’s going to be tough and it’s a big challenge, but I’m planning on going to the qualifying schools in the States and Japan at the end of the year and I’ll take it from there.

“First, though, I’d just love to get back to Birkdale and I’m excited the chance is there for me.”

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