Cynon Valley - - FRONT PAGE - TOM HOUGHTON tom.houghton@waleson­

MOUN­TAIN Ash-born Stu­art Manley, who last week made head­lines around the world as club­house leader of the Open Championship, has said he will use his de­but at Royal Birk­dale to im­prove.

The start of the con­test for Manley, ranked 520th in the world and the only Welsh­man to en­ter the tour­na­ment, was be­yond any ex­pec­ta­tion as he shot an open­ing round of 68, baf­fling com­men­ta­tors.

Al­though an 11 over par sec­ond round on Fri­day meant he missed the cut for the week­end’s play, Manley said he will take pos­i­tives from the ex­pe­ri­ence. He told BBC Sport: “It was a mas­sive high on the Thurs­day af­ter play­ing so well and know­ing I can com­pete with the best play­ers in tough con­di­tions.

“But ob­vi­ously it was a mas­sive blow on the Fri­day. I’ll take the pos­i­tives from it and move on.

“I shot 68 and you look at the likes of Rory McIl­roy and Dustin John­son and I beat all those guys .... I knew it deep down and when you do do it, it’s nice to see.

“If I can do it there, there’s no rea­son why I can’t take that for­ward and do it in the fu­ture.”

It came af­ter Manley made the dream start to his de­but in a Ma­jor af­ter be­com­ing the shock club­house leader.

The 38-year-old bounced back from push­ing his open­ing drive into the rough for a bo­gey five with a stun­ning ea­glebirdie fin­ish at the 17th and 18th holes to be at the head of the leader board from the early starters.

Manley’s card, which also fea­tured a birdie at the sixth hole and a bo­gey on the 14th, put the Moun­tain Ash-born pro­fes­sional, who has been in the paid ranks of the sport since 2003, on two un­der par af­ter a 68.

That meant the likes of Ry­der Cup star Ian Poul­ter and even­tual win­ner Jor­dan Spi­eth were chas­ing his score.

Be­fore tee­ing off, Manley, who qual­i­fied for Birk­dale af­ter fin­ish­ing joint sec­ond at the Jo­han­nes­burg Open in Fe­bru­ary, told the BBC: “This is my dream job and I’m liv­ing it – it’s bril­liant. I’ve been dream­ing about it for decades. You try to qual­ify ev­ery year and I’ve been very close a few times.

“It’s one of the things to tick off the bucket list and I can’t wait to get go­ing.”

Un­for­tu­nately for Manley, seven bo­geys, three dou­ble bo­geys and only two birdies on Fri­day left him nine over to bow out of the 146th Open, mean­ing he did not take part over the week­end.

But con­so­la­tion for Manley still saw him take home a lux­ury car – the gift given to ev­ery golfer com­pet­ing at the Open.

Amer­i­can Spi­eth, 23, emerged vic­to­ri­ous on Sun­day, win­ning his third ca­reer ma­jor af­ter hold­ing off the chal­lenge of com­pa­triot Matt Kuchar.

Grow­ing up in Moun­tain Ash, Manley showed sport­ing prom­ise from an early age, play­ing spells at foot­ball clubs Manch­ester United, Crys­tal Palace and Swansea City, but chose to fo­cus on golf, en­rolling on a four-year schol­ar­ship at the Univer­sity of West Florida.

See our Sport pull­out for more.

Stu­art Manley had a dream start to The Open Championship 2017 at Royal Birk­dale

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