Golf: Relief for scrambling Rose

British teenager revives memory of his Open fairytale as he makes qualifying cut. By Andy Farrell in San Roque
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The Independent Online
JUSTIN ROSE, whose professional career to date has been akin to the ancient torture of death by a thousand cuts, yesterday survived the 72-hole cut-off in the Qualifying School to ensure his presence on the European tour next season. Rose's next task over the last two rounds starting today is to haul himself up into the top-35 and ties and earn his "player's card".

But, just by making the cut, something he failed to do in seven European and one Australian tournament, his first since finishing fourth at the Open Championship, Rose becomes eligible for full membership of the European tour. That means he can accept an unlimited supply of sponsors' invitations, rather than the seven he was restricted to on turning pro in July.

The 18-year-old, who produced the highest finish in the Open by an amateur for 45 years at Royal Birkdale, will undoubtedly receive as many as he requests, an advantage not available to the majority of the players who have made the cut but end up outside the top-35 tomorrow afternoon.

But then, no one else was followed round the Sotogrande course by a score of spectators during the most important 18 holes of his short professional career, and more, plus three camera crews, were there to greet Rose at the 18th green. The Open must have seemed light years away but the tension was still palpable and there was an uncanny reminder of Birkdale as the drama was played out at the last.

Rose arrived there at one under for his round and four over for the tournament. He thought he had no room to spare thanks to a bogey at the 16th when a fine recovery from the back bunker was wasted when he missed the three- foot putt.

With the pin at the 18th tucked into the right-hand side of the green, a drive to the left was the ideal line but Rose pulled his tee shot too much and found a fairway bunker. The stance was awkward and he caught his five-iron second shot heavy.

He came up short of the green on the left. When his caddie paced off the shot and reported it was 50 yards, Rose had a familiar feeling. "It was funny," he said. "The chip from Birkdale went through my mind." Much of the hype that surrounds the South African-born player from Hampshire stems directly from holing out with his last shot as an amateur and, had he taken three to get down, he might have enjoyed the benefits of a good Open without quite such over-zealous attention.

There were no grandstands around the 18th green at Sotogrande, nor live television, but Rose instinctively understood the significance of the shot. "It was more important than the one at the Open because I knew I had to get up and down," he admitted.

It did not go in this time but the ball stopped five feet from the hole and the putt, downhill and just inside the right edge of the cup, did fall. "That was my best shot of the day," Rose said. "It's a great relief. I have felt a lot stronger nerves-wise this week, but it's tough.

"It was never going to be plain-sailing after the first round and it's been frustrating not scoring as well as I've played. I'm over one hurdle but there is another over the next two rounds, but at least I've got a ranking and somewhere to play next year."

Making the cut also gives him full status on the Challenge Tour, the junior circuit to the main tour, so he can plan his schedule instead of "playing where you don't want to be playing". Rose began the day well with a birdie at the second but back-to-back bogeys at the eighth and ninth left him six over. "I knew then I was borderline," he said.

The response was one that suggests he has the necessary attributes to make the grade. He single-putted the next five greens, including a par- saving up-and-down at the 10th to stem the tide and then birdies at the 11th, 12th and 14th.

His 71 left Rose 13 strokes behind the leader Ross Drummond but his four- over score turned out to be one inside the cut line and continued his improvement from 136th to 131st, to 90th and now 58th. Drummond, who lost his card last year after 20 seasons as a pro, shot a 73 at the harder of the two venues, San Roque, but moved into a two-stroke lead over Francisco Valera, Emanuele Canonica and Henrik Nystrom.

Steve Richardson, the 1991 Ryder Cup player, shot a 75 but at two over still has hopes of regaining his card. Gordon J Brand slumped to a 77 but still got in at four over, but Paul Way continued his slump from the back nine on Friday with a 78.

Mac O'Grady, who last year challenged a playing partner who was a part- time judge to a fight during qualifying for the US Open, achieved what he would doubtless call a "plane of virtuosity" with a 67 at Sotogrande that elevated him to three over. Asked if a short soundbite was available from the eccentric American, the press officer replied, reasonably enough, that he did not have two hours to spare.