Golf: Nicklaus has the game to survive: European Tour Qualifying School

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The Independent Online
GARY NICKLAUS was pretty pleased with his day's work. All things considered, his score of 73 in the fifth and penultimate round of the European Tour Qualifying School was a commendable effort as the going went from tough to horrendous. For the grand climax the survivors, 91 on four over par and better, moved from the relative comfort of La Grande Motte to the severe demands of Massane.

The parkland course, designed by Ronald Fream, was buffeted by a gale and many players did not have the game to cope. Stephen Bennett, one of the most experienced players in an event that passes for a fight for employment and self-respect, began the day at one over and finished it at 12 over. He shot 83, which included an eight at the ninth.

Another Englishman, George Ryall, had also compiled four decent rounds but yesterday he was crushed by an 86 to go from three over to 17 over. He, too, met his Waterloo at the ninth, where he had a quadruple-bogey nine. A stream runs in front of the green, a deterrent to those attempting to get on in two.

The wind not only put a premium on accuracy, it played havoc on greens that were already playing fast and dangerous. 'The pin positions were ridiculous,' Robert Lee said. 'Whoever set them was on steroids.' Lee shot 78.

If the ninth was hard the fifth was brutal, a par five where a score of seven was almost respectable. The green, surrounded by water, can only be reached via a little bridge. There are four par fives at Massane which, in theory, should provide a professional with plenty of birdie opportunities. In fact, only the 11th rewarded the brave and Nicklaus eagled it: driver, eight-iron, one putt from 25 feet. He was heading for one of the best scores of the day until he dropped strokes at the last two holes.

This is not quite the last chance saloon for the 24-year-old Nicklaus. 'I'm not under as much pressure as some of the people out here,' he said. 'If perchance I don't get my card I will not have to wash windows for a living. I can survive, obviously thanks to my dad.' Big Jack caddied for Gary at the US Qualifying School in West Palm Beach, Florida last week but the Golden Cub missed out by one stroke.

He had already come through pre- qualifying in Manchester for the European equivalent and this is the first time in three attempts he has survived to the bitter end. With an aggregate of 361, he is one over. The leading 40 players after the sixth and final round today get their cards.

There were plenty of scores in the roaring eighties and, although nobody broke 70, Scott Watson somehow managed to keep his card bogey free. He had two birdies for a 70. 'I was just trying to think my way round the course instead of thrashing at it,' Watson said.

He is 27 and attached to the Basingstoke Golf Centre. This is his seventh attempt at the school. 'I'm just hoping,' Watson said, 'that my mind allows me to play the sort of golf I know I'm capable of.' Ah, the mind. They can all play a bit but it becomes a different ball game when your future is on the line. Watson has the support here of his girlfriend, Donna, who happens to be a psychiatric nurse. However, she is not as big a source of professional help as, for example, Jack is to Gary. 'Whenever I start to analyse him,' Donna said, 'he tells me to shut up.'

Forty-five players were under par after the fourth round and only a handful were still in the black after the fifth. Ten players, including the leaders Brian Nelson and Steven Bottomley, failed to complete the round last night as darkness descended and will return early this morning for unfinished business. Then they face one more round.

PGA EUROPEAN TOUR QUALIFYING SCHOOL (Montpellier) Early fifth round leaders: 353 S Watson (Eng) 70 73 72 68 70, J Hall (Eng) 68 73 68 71 73; 355 R Alvarez (Arg) 66 71 72 70 76; 356 R McFarlane (Eng) 68 72 73 70 73, L Westwood 67 69 73 70 77; 357 C-M Stromberg (Swe) 66 73 73 68 77; 359 M Gronberg (Swe) 74 69 70 71 75, G Hjertstedt (Swe) 71 74 71 71 72, R Berhorst (Ger) 72 71 71 68 77, A Collison (Eng) 64 73 74 71 77; 360 A Sejka (Ger) 69 74 69 72 76, P Golding 77 68 68 73 74, M Piltz (Fin) 76 70 67 70 77, M Nichols (Eng) 71 70 71 70 78, S Hamill (NI) 69 71 68 73 79; 361 J M Arruti (Sp) 73 76 66 73 73, G Nicklaus (US) 71 71 73 73 73, R Burns (Ire) 70 73 72 70 76, P Moloney (Aus) 70 72 75 69 75, C Suneson (Eng) 70 70 70 72 79, M Scarpa (It) 67 70 70 74 80; 365 R Russell (Sco) 73 68 74 69 81; 366 C Brooks (Sco) 70 72 72 74 78.

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