Golf: Watts makes final cut after a titanic struggle

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The Independent Online
IN THE game of sink or swim that is the European Tour's Qualifying School, yesterday's fifth round was all about treading water. The ordeal, similar to that experienced by Leonardo Di Caprio, Kate Winslett and sundry extras when the Titanic hit a frozen water hazard otherwise known as an iceberg, will finally end today when a lifeboat with room only for the top 35 and ties will ensure safe passage to next season's tour.

In terms of clinging to the wreckage, Carl Watts was gripping tightly as he parred each of the first 14 holes at San Roque, where the last two rounds are being played exclusively. Three bogeys in a row from the 15th amounted to a quick dip in the icy ocean.

Were he an actor, Watts would undoubtedly have been a devotee of the method style. As an amateur, the former British Boys champion caddied at the Qualifying School for five years. Inspired rather than daunted, Watts found himself playing in the event in 1993 and '94 but failed to get his card on either occasion.

Instead the 27-year-old, who represents The Shropshire club, played on the Challenge Tour and, in 1996, won the inaugural Russian Open. His performance on the junior circuit won him a place on the main tour in '97 but he only secured his card for this year with a second place at the BMW International late in the season.

He made more cuts and was more consistent but did not have a big finish, so he dropped to 146th on the Order of Merit and had to line up again at the Q School. His late collapse was halted by a birdie at the last, which also restored his humour. Clearly the movie buff, who also enjoys fishing and fitness, has seen another DiCaprio film, Romeo and Juliet. "Give me five minutes while I jump off the balcony," he said.

At three over Watts is right "on the bubble", tied for 34th place, where former Ryder Cup player Steve Richardson can also be found. Although Justin Rose improved from 58th to 51st place, his 74 left the 18-year-old on six over, three outside the safety line. Rose must feel his career at the moment is akin to the scenes in Groundhog Day when the hero's minor successes are mixed with many disappointments.

Having achieved the important act of making the cut on Saturday, Rose might have hoped for something in the order of Carlos Larrain's 66, which took the Venezuelan from five over to one under. But then, Rose did not sink like Bristol's Simon Hurley with an 81.

"It was disappointing to go backwards today but hopefully I can do a 69 or better tomorrow," Rose said. "I just like to keep everyone in suspense."

Henrik Nystrom, a 29-year-old from Stockholm, moved to the top of the leaderboard with a 68 and, at 11 under, is four in front of Ross Drummond and Italy's Marcello Santi. "This is pressure, pure pressure," Nystrom said. "We are playing for the whole of next year and that's a big thing. I am just trying to relax and not get too carried away."

Drummond lost his over-night lead with a 74 but is well on course to regain the tour card he lost in '97. After a 20-year career of playing four-round events, the Scot cannot wait for the finish line. "I was walking to the dining room for breakfast and said to my caddie: `Here we go again.' It was the seventh time we'd made that walk. There's nothing else like this. After the first hole on Wednesday I said to him: `Well, one down, 107 to go!' At least we are down to 18 to go."

Scores, Digest, page 26

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