Golf: Schoolboy caddie lifts Riley

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MANY of the competitors seeking a place in the Open Championship at Muirfield fought a losing battle against gale-force winds in the final qualifying yesterday. Wayne Riley, the Australian Open champion, had problems of a different kind.

Riley, already irked that his national championship did not carry sufficient clout for him to be exempt from qualifying, made a wretched start at Gullane. He had a bogey at the first hole and a double bogey at the second, at which point he sacked his caddie.

'He has even lost my umbrella. I could not put up with him any more,' Riley said. The unfortunate caddie had made the journey to Scotland from the United States, where he teamed up with Riley and carried the Australian's bag for the last four weeks.

Yesterday, Riley carried his own bag at the third hole, where he took a bogey six. Then a spectator offered his services and Riley's fortunes improved dramatically. Stuart Meikle, a 17-year-old pupil at the George Heriot School in Edinburgh, played the role of the good Samaritan. No sooner had he taken over as caddie than Riley hit form. From the fourth to the ninth he scored 3-3-3-3-4-3. He finished with a level par 71. Meikle, who has played Gullane frequently, will caddie for Riley in the final qualifying round today. 'He did me a lot of good,' Riley said.

Out of a total of 480 players, the leading 16 from each of four courses will get into the Open field of 156. Very few enjoyed the experience yesterday. Christy O'Connor Jnr, who won the Dunhill Masters in May, shot 71 at Luffness, two over par, and then set his sights on the Royal and Ancient. 'I think it is disgraceful that the British Masters champion has to go through this process,' O'Connor Jnr said.

'I am in the World Series, I am in the World Championship and I'll probably be in the World Cup and yet I have to pre-qualify for the Open. It was dog rough and I hated every minute of it. Playing golf in that wind would make me want to give up the game. I absolutely loathed it.'

The Irishman was critical of the fact that five players in the Bell's Scottish Open gained exemption. 'There is a world of difference,' he said, 'between winning an event like the British Masters and getting one of those five places. The comparison is ludicrous.' Michael Bonallack, the secretary of the R & A, admitted: 'He may have a valid point and we will probably have a look at it.'

D J Russell, who won the Lyon Open last month, shot 80 at Luffness and promptly withdrew. 'It seems unfair to win a European Tour event and then have to qualify for the Open,' Russell said. It is the third successive year that Russell, 11th at Royal Lytham in 1988, has failed to qualify for the Open.

Ben Crenshaw, third in the Open at Muirfield in 1980 and fourth here five years ago, scored 79 at North Berwick and Phil Mickelson 80. 'I played terrible,' Crenshaw said. 'I had no feel.' Had Mickelson, who turned professional last month, remained an amateur he would have been exempt from qualifying.

Paul Curry's round of 74 at North Berwick was respectable by comparison. After scoring 60 in the second round of the Scottish Open, which won him pounds 16,000, Curry shot 74 in the final round at Gleneagles and missed one of the five wild cards by two strokes. 'I came here absolutely sick,' he said.

Not everybody was weatherbeaten. Michael Welch, the 19-year-old former British Boys' champion, came through regional qualifying and yesterday shot 71 at Dunbar. 'I played at Sandwich last week and this is a breeze compared to that,' the amateur from Shropshire said.