Siem among a group of surprise contenders at British Open

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Germany's Marcel Siem celebrates after making a birdie putt on the 18th green during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship at Royal St George's golf course Sandwich, England, Friday, July 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Ian Walton)

Marcel Siem is raising the roof and pumping his fists, a 41-year-old German who looks to be having the time of his life at the British Open.

That starts with even being at Royal St. George's.

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Siem was among the very last players to earn a spot in the Open. Travel restrictions caused by COVID-19 forced the R&A to get creative with its qualifying, and it decided at the last minute to offer a spot to the leading player from a Challenge Tour event last week in France.

Siem, who was No. 488 in the world, won Le Vaudreuil Golf Challenge for his first title in seven years. Five days later, he walked off the 18th green at Royal St. George's with another 3-under 67 that put him right in the mix.

“My daughter, yesterday she said, ‘Daddy, you have to win this week as well.’ These are kids,” Siem said. “I'll try to stay calm as possible. It's going to be huge now. Going to be a lot of crowds and the pressure will be high. I will do my best to do the same I did last week."

Siem had company in his unlikely position.

Even as Collin Morikawa was picking apart the links with his world-class iron play for a 64 to reach 9-under 131 after the morning round, Siem and two others were in the chasing pack three shots behind.

Emiliano Grillo of Argentina came within inches of holing his approach from the 18th fairway, tapping in for his ninth birdie of the round and a 64. Daniel Van Tonder of South Africa posted a 66 earlier in the day.

Both got into the British Open from the reserve list. Both have a right to dream big.

Grillo had a pair of top 10s in the spring and moved high enough in the world ranking that he replaced Sungjae Im, who withdrew to prepare for the Olympics. This is his fifth straight British Open. He shot 69 in his debut at Royal Troon in 2016 and did not break 70 again until Friday.

“I think I'd take 64 for any round in a major,” Grillo said. “I think I'll take 64 any day, even playing with my friends.”

Van Tonder, a four-time winner last year on the Sunshine Tour in South Africa, did well enough in the BMW International Open three weeks ago that when a spot came free — Joohyung Kim withdrew because of travel issues — his name was called.

The 30-year-old South African is making his Open debut and started with rounds of 68-66.

“I can't ask for much,” said Van Tonder, even though he can count a half-dozen shots he feels he lost over two rounds. “Golf, you can’t really go and just say you want to be this or that. You have to go out and play.

“I'm here for the weekend and just enjoying every moment.”

Pure joy? Siem has cornered the market on that. With his ponytail pulled tight, every putt he makes is accompanied by a smile and the jab of his fist. These are big crowds at 32,000 fans a day, the most of a major and way more than Siem is used to seeing these days.

“We get maybe 15 or 20 people on the Challenge Tour,” he said.

Siem hasn't played in the Open since missing the cut at St. Andrews in 2015. Making it even sweeter was the first round coincided with his birthday, a tidy round of 67 followed by a tempered celebration brought on by the strict bubble in place.

“I had one glass of red wine with my caddie in the players' lounge when we had dinner, and then I went to bed,” he said. “There was a lot of text messages. I tried not to reply. Very exhausting.”

It was hard work just getting back. His last victory was in the fall of 2014 when Siem won in a three-man playoff at the BMW Masters in Shanghai. His game has fallen so much that he lost his European Tour card and now plays the secondary Challenge Tour.

That's what is keeping him grounded, even with his name so high on the leaderboard.

“I have to stay humble. I lost my card. I’m coming from nowhere and I will definitely try my best to compete, but I can’t give any predictions,” he said. “I will definitely try to play my best and stay calm, and hopefully I will be up on the leaderboard somewhere.”


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