Golf: Last chance for Lytham hopefuls

Given the choice of playing in the final rounds of the qualifying competition for the Open Championship or walking a tightrope over Niagara in a gale, there are those who would prefer to take their chances with the Falls.

There is only one thing worse than playing in the qualifying and that's failing. The failure rate is high. Yesterday 480 players underwent a nerve-racking examination over four courses. Only 48 - 12 from each course - will not be checking out of their B and B at the conclusion of the second round tonight.

Some, in fact, are already resigned to watching the 125th Open on television. Jarmo Sandelin, the promising young Swede, was scheduled to play in the qualifying at Formby. Sandelin, who won the Madeira Island Open this year and was fourth in the Volvo PGA Championship at Wentworth, failed to put in an appearance yesterday and was disqualified.

The R and A has grown accustomed to a lack of commitment from a handful of Americans but not from a European who is lying 26th in the Volvo rankings. Another early casualty was Jamie Spence who shot 78 and promptly retired. When the championship starts here on Thursday there will be 156 players in the field, 108 of whom were exempt.

They are the lucky ones. The Scotsman Gordon Law, 12 months after the worst experience of his life, is determined to make no mistakes this time. He would have comfortably qualified for the Open at St Andrews last year but put his name on the wrong scorecard and was disqualified. Last Monday Law shot a course record 64 at Glenbervie in regional qualifying and yesterday at Formby he had a 69. A similar effort today will guarantee Law a place in the Open and a minimum reward of pounds 4,000.

Over at Southport and Ainsdale, another Scot, Ross Drummond, shot a nine- under-par 63. Drummond, a journeyman pro who rarely bothers the scorers, has had two top-five finishes on the European Tour this season and it may not be unconnected to the fact that a reporter on a national newspaper is carrying his bag with a view to writing a book.

What was extraordinary about Drummond's round yesterday was that he produced it on a course he had never set eyes on before. His score was a stroke outside the course record set by Chris Moody in final qualifying for the Open at Royal Birkdale in 1991.

At St Annes Old Links, a course record of 65 was set by Richard Boxall and the 23-year-old Austrian Rudi Sailer Jnr. Boxall, who broke a leg during the third round of the Open five years ago, arrived at the Lancashire links having shot 85 in the final round of the Scottish Open at Carnoustie. Sailer, from Kitz- buhel, won the Austrian amateur championship five times before turning professional two years ago. This season he has won less than pounds 2,000 on the Challenge Tour.

One of the leaders at Fairhaven, which has six par-fives and a par of 74, was Ricky Willison. The Ealing golfer was seventh in the Irish Open at Druids Glen two weeks ago and has won enough money to secure his card for next season. "I want to experience the dryness of the mouth and dodgy stomach that champions get," Willison said. "I felt it in Ireland and it was wonderful." In County Wicklow his wife caddied for him. Here he has Johnny Miller, not the former Open champion but a clubmate.

At the beginning of the year, the R and A were not sure if Jack Nicklaus was going to play in the Open. Now they may have not only the Golden Bear but one of his cubs. Gary Nicklaus, attempting to qualify for the fifth time, had a 68 at St Annes Old Links. "Of course it would be great to play in the same field as dad," the 27-year-old Nicklaus said. "If I qualify it will be about time because I've been a pro for five years. I don't feel the pressure because of who I am. I just get on with it."

Gordon Sherry is finding it increasingly difficult to get on with it. This time last year the boy from Kilmarnock was having the time of his life. As an amateur he was fourth in the Scottish Open and also had a ball in the Open at St Andrews. Injury prevented him from playing at Carnoustie last week, and although he played at Formby yesterday he was struggling. Sherry shot a one-over-par 73 and retired to a physiotherapist's couch. "My back is bad," Sherry said. "I had spasms in my neck a few weeks ago and although my neck is better it has spread to my back. I suppose 73 is respectable in the circumstances."

The 16-year-old Sergio Garcia has already qualified for the Open and a few miles down the road from here, along the promenade in Blackpool, teenage champions from 36 countries compete this week in the Junior Open. No silver claret jug for the winner but a golf scholarship to the Rossall School and two all-expenses paid trips to the David Leadbetter academy in Florida.

Scores, Digest, page 19

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