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Hopefuls ready to Duke it out for St Andrews place

THIS week, the Duke's Course.

Next July, the Old Course? The possibility of a place in the 2015 Open Championship in the cradle of the game in St Andrews is the huge incentive on offer for some of the continent's leading players in the European Amateur Championship, which gets underway today, at the Duke's on the outskirts of the Auld Grey Toon.

The winner of the 72-hole strokeplay event will be handed an invitation to the following year's Open Championship and a host of Scottish hopefuls are hoping to join a list of past champions that includes the likes of Sergio Garcia and the current world No.1 Rory McIlroy.

It is 20 years now since Stephen Gallacher became the first, and as yet only, Scot to lift one of the amateur game's 'major' titles. As the championship returns to Scottish soil for the first time since Nairn was the host in 2003, Gallacher continues to harbour fond memories of that significant success which saw him pip countryman Gordon Sherry to the crown in Finland.

"I won the 1994 European Amateur Championship to get into the Lancome Trophy on the European Tour," he recalled. "That event featured guys such as Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Lee Trevino. It was a fabulous experience for me at that young age."

While McIlroy, the European Amateur champion in 2006, goes for a third successive victory on the global stage in this week's PGA Championship, Meldrum House's Chris Robb will be hoping to follow in the Northern Irishman's footsteps and claim his fourth victory in a row on the amateur front. Having captured the East of Scotland Open, the Cameron Corbett Vase and the Scottish Amateur Championship over the past month, the 23-year-old will tee-up in his favoured format of strokeplay in buoyant mood.

Englishman Ashley Chesters will defend the title he won a year ago while Italian youngster Renato Paratore is the highest ranked player on the world amateur order at No.5.

Bradley Neil, the reigning Amateur champion, and Grant Forrest, this season's St Andrews Links Trophy winner, are the notable home absentees in an impressive line-up as they are heading out to compete on the other side of the Atlantic in the US Amateur Championship.

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