Golf / The Open: O'Connor fails qualifying test: Famous names fall by the wayside as a 39-year-old finally succeeds at the 16th attempt

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The Independent Online
FOR the minority who succeeded the ordeal was worth it: a place in the 121st Open Championship and the chance to be a contender in arguably the greatest golf show on earth. For the majority, the process of final qualifying amounted to hell on earth.

Christy O'Connor Jnr, who bitterly criticised the Royal and Ancient for not making him exempt after his victory in the Dunhill Masters in May, was packing his bags last night after losing in a dramatic play-off. The leading 16 players out of a total of 480 on four courses claimed the final places in the Open field of 156. The agony was prolonged at each of the courses. At Gullane, 10 players had to play off for one place; at North Berwick, six had to go to extra holes for three spots; at Dunbar, seven went into a play-off for five places; and at Luffness, eight had to go to extra time for four places.

O'Connor Jnr, who shot 70 earlier in the day, was involved in the play-off at Luffness and the final spot rested between him and Brian Marchbank. The issue was not resolved until the fifth extra hole, where Marchbank won it with a birdie three.

Ben Crenshaw and Phil Mickelson were among the casualties, as was Ed Sneed. The 48- year-old Sneed was disqualified at Dunbar when he failed to make his tee-off time. Sneed, who managed to lose the Masters at Augusta in 1979 after being five strokes ahead with five holes to play, was told the tee-off time was 1.30pm. That was a provisional arrangement and he was unaware of his new time of 12.55.

He arrived at the course at noon and was on the practice ground when he saw his two partners playing the first green. 'I didn't know the tee times had been changed and I'd have thought someone would have told me,' Sneed, from Columbus, Ohio, said. The change in times affected 240 players and Sneed was the only one left in ignorance. Michael Bonallack, secretary of the R & A, said: 'We could have reinstated him but it was too late. He'd left the course. I'm extremely sorry about it. It's the last thing in the world we would want to happen.'

Crenshaw, third in the Open at Muirfield in 1980 and fourth here in 1987, scored 71 yesterday after a disastrous 79. At least when he returns to Texas he will be reunited with his putter 'Little Ben'. Thirty miles from Crenshaw's home, a man bought a set of clubs that included the putter. Mickelson, who would have been exempt for the Open had he remained an amateur, shot 80 and 68 and failed to qualify by a stroke.

One man's misery was another's ecstasy. Kevin Jones, a 39-year-old professional at Caldy in Cheshire, qualified at his 16th attempt. He first tried in 1972 and after 15 failures, he was not going to bother again. His wife, Marie, sent in his entry form and paid the pounds 65 fee. When he rang her with the good news, she got on the first train to Scotland. Even if Jones finishes last in the Open, he will receive pounds 600.

Tony Charnley also survived, coming through the play-off at Dunbar. The Luton professional, a regular on the European Tour, has made only four half-way cuts this year and is out of pocket by around pounds 10,000. 'I'd give up the game if I had the courage,' he said.

(Photograph omitted)

Putter fetches pounds 92,000, page 3

Scores, Sport in Short, page 29