Golf: Rain and pain for the would-be qualifiers: Famous names drawn into the scramble for Open entry

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THE local tourist board calls it White Cliffs Country but for those attempting to qualify for the 122nd Open Championship yesterday it became white-knuckle territory. While a desperate fight ensued in wind and rain on the first day of final qualifying, Nick Faldo, the defending champion, saw driving of a different kind.

Oblivious to what was happening on the Kent coast, Faldo was on the grid before the start of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. When he noticed Damon Hill decline an interview he empathised. 'Damon was switched on, he was concentrating only on winning,' Faldo said. 'It's a bit like me. When you're playing to win it's a different ball game.' Earlier, Hill had offered Faldo a spin around the track. 'Hold on a minute,' Faldo told him. 'It would be like you playing nine holes with me before the start of the Open.'

Faldo played at Royal St George's on Thursday and Friday. 'It is seriously dry,' he said. 'Some holes are playing ridiculously short and the ball runs forever. It hasn't had rain for six weeks.' As he spoke in Northamptonshire it poured down in Kent and play was suspended at one of the qualifying courses. The total entry for the Open was a record 1,827 of whom 1,461 competed in regional qualifying over 12 courses earlier this month.

That sifted the number for final qualifying over four courses yesterday and today to 480 and only the leading 53 players will win places in the Open field of 156. Peter Baker thought he should have been spared the inconvenience of qualifying after winning the Dunhill British Masters last month. Baker, who shot 70 at Royal Cinque Ports GC yesterday, said: 'It's a joke being here and it's even more of a joke that it took nearly five hours to play the round. The R and A hold a qualifier in Japan but they don't make it convenient for us in Britain.'

Roger Chapman and Robert Lee, who lost a play-off to Gary Evans for an exempt spot in the Bell's Scottish Open at Gleneagles on Saturday, both had to make frantic journeys to Kent from Scotland to meet early tee-off times yesterday.

Chapman, who shot 69 at Royal Cinque Ports, said: 'I just had time to kiss the kids before setting off. I was shattered.' He got to sleep at 2.30am and was up at 5am because his caddie wanted to see the course. Lee was among the leaders at Littlestone after a 68.

As for two former Ryder Cup players, Howard Clark shot 66 at Prince's and Jose-Maria Canizares was disqualified. Canizares simply did not show up and he can expect a curt letter from the R and A. Clark has been a long-distance driver over the past few days. He thought he had missed the cut at Gleneagles and drove home to Leeds. When he realised he had not, he had to drive back to Scotland and then put in another 600 miles getting to the south coast.

Lee Janzen, the US Open champion, has made it to White Cliffs Country. The bad news is that his clubs have not.