Golf: Pop goes the cork as Lee finds the key to Top 40 chart success: Nelson sails through, Nicklaus sinks. Tim Glover reports from Montpellier on the high-flyers and crash-landers at the European Tour Qualifying School

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ROBERT LEE got his card. 'I'm going to get absolutely rat-holed,' he said, heading for the bar. The day had started badly for the 32- year-old Londoner, who was on dawn patrol to catch a bus from his hotel to the course at Massane for the sixth and final round of the European Tour Qualifying School.

The only problem is that his clubs were locked in the clubhouse and he couldn't find anybody with the key. 'We were losing our heads because we thought we couldn't get them out,' Lee said. The bus departed at 6.30am without Lee and his caddie, James Rae, alias Edinburgh Jimmy. While Lee was attempting to gain entry he triggered the alarm which at least had the effect of waking up an employee who had access to the clubhouse.

'If the worst had come to the worst I'd have broken in and paid the damages later,' Lee said. In fact, he did have a bill to pay. Edinburgh Jimmy gave a piece of his mind to a female travel agent over the missed bus and for that the Tour fined Lee pounds 100. He took his aggression out on the course and went round in 69, three under par for the day. It gave him an aggregate of 432, level for the tournament.

The leading 40 gain membership to the Volvo Tour. Forty-two players were on six over or better and seven of them will return this morning to play off for the final five places. 'It's a trauma,' Lee said. 'It feels like a marathon.' At least he wasn't involved in the play-off. It cost him pounds 570 to enter and another pounds 2,000 in expenses. There was no lack of company at the bar, although many were drowning their sorrows. Raymond Burns, 20, from Northern Ireland, was heading for his card until he dropped seven strokes in the last four holes. Burns started at the 10th and had a nine at the par-four seventh. He hit his approach into a bush and had to take two penalty drops.

Although the wind was not as wicked as it had been in the fifth round, the pin positions were punishing. Liam White, from Nottingham, had two eights in a round of 78 and narrowly missed his card. 'Whenever I seem to be making progress I take a kicking,' White said. On this year's Challenge Tour, which offers alternative employment to the main Tour, White finished 11th and the top 10 are spared the masochism at Massane. White thought he would avoid the Qualifying School but last month he was bumped out of the top 10 by Ignacio Garrido. Garrido took the 10th card by winning the Spanish PGA Championship, an event closed to non-Spanish professionals. 'I have no argument with Ignacio,' White said. 'It's the system that's wrong.'

Glenn Ralph was another to miss out and his hard luck story came at the 14th where his approach shot cleared the water but hit a sleeper in front of the green. His ball rebounded 100 yards. When he got on the green he three-putted from eight feet and took seven. Ralph tried, without success, to get a flight home last night.

Only 12 players finished under par and Alexander Cejka was one of them. Aged 22 from Marianske Lazne in the Czech Republic, he moved to Munich two years ago. He has a German passport and the support of the German Golf Federation. 'Everything is so much better in the West,' Cejka said. Not everything. They gave him a Lancia and he drove 1,500 kilometres from Munich to Massane. Although his name is emblazoned on the side, the car was stolen from the car park here. It contained his golf shoes and clothes but not his clubs.

Brian Nelson, 27, from Texas, was the leading qualifier with 424, eight under. 'I holed more putts in six days than I've done all year,' he said. Nelson, who carried his own bag, failed to qualify at the US School and said he preferred playing in Europe. 'I'll be living out of the Holiday Inn at Heathrow,' he said. Nelson attributed his success to his faith in God. 'I've been spending more time with the Bible. I just went out and relaxed.' Nelson's bonus for winning is pounds 7,800, which he will receive on competing in 11 or more events in Europe.

Gary Nicklaus, the 24-year-old son of Jack, shot 78 and failed by a stroke. 'I didn't do it when I needed to,' he said. A six at the 13th, where he went in the water, drowned his hopes and next year he will have to rely on sponsors' invitations. As he said, he will not have to resort to washing windows for a living.