GOLF: Rose ends nightmare to secure tour ticket

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JUSTIN ROSE yesterday enjoyed his sweetest moment in golf since his brilliant performance to finish fourth in last year's Open Championship.

The 19-year-old from Hampshire finished joint third in the European Tour qualifying school here, four shots behind the Scottish winner, Alastair Forsyth, and said: "I'm chuffed to bits - what a relief. This could end up to be far more important than anything else I ever do."

Winning his card enables Rose to put an horrendous start to his professional career behind him and, having achieved fame at Birkdale 16 months ago, gives him another chance to make a fortune with next year's European circuit worth in the region of pounds 45m.

Rose was only 17 when he put on the best display by an amateur in the Open since 1953, pitching in from 45 yards at the last hole to finish only two strokes out of the play-off between Mark O'Meara and Brian Watts. He took on an instant fan club - the Duke of York watched him and screaming girls chasing his autograph were nicknamed "The Rosettes" - but then things turned sour.

After signing lucrative bonus-related deals with club, ball and watch manufacturers, Rose missed the halfway cut in his first 21 tour events and failed to come through the school at his first attempt last year. That left him relying on sponsors' invitations, but in 16 starts this season he won less than pounds 7,000 and finished only 197th on the money list. Meanwhile, Sergio Garcia, Europe's other teenage sensation, finished third with winnings just short of pounds 1m.

"I knew what my potential was and I didn't perform to it," said Rose. "Tour life was probably difficult at first looking back, but the problems were game-related. I was struggling off the tee and didn't give myself a chance to score. It was as black and white as that, but I feel more carefree now. Now I'm back on tour on my own merit and that's a nice feeling," added Rose after finishing with a 45-foot birdie putt yesterday for a five-under-par total of 427.

"After starting with a 74, I made five under my target for the week, so it was amazing that I holed that putt. I'd like to pay tribute to my dad. While things weren't going well he was there every day for me and every missed cut probably hurt him more than it did me."

Ken Rose taught his son the game, remains his main coach and caddied for him at the qualifying school, but now the teenager intends hiring a professional bag-carrier again. However, winning his card is not the end of the battle. Of the 38 players who came through the school last year only nine earned enough to avoid a return visit.

Philip Walton must face the future without a tour card - just four years after playing in the Ryder Cup. The 37-year-old Dubliner who gave Europe victory on the final hole of the final match at Oak Hill, crashed to closing rounds of 81 and 77. He needed a closing 66 to join the 42 players who won cards for next season but instead finished 77th and last of those who survived the 72-hole cut at the six-day marathon.

Walton finished 13th on the money list in 1995, beating Colin Montgomerie in a play-off for the English Open and also lifting the Catalan Open, but he has not had a victory since overcoming Jay Haas in that decisive Ryder Cup battle.

The Irishman, who slumped to 160th on this year's money list, now plans a few days' rest before flying to California for laser surgery on his eyes. "I have a bad astigmatism and I've been thinking of having it done for a year," he said. "But stress has been the problem - as you keep missing cuts your confidence goes down."