After Luton comes Els, Goosen and £500,000 for Wegerle

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The Independent Online

Roy Wegerle, the former Queen's Park Rangers, Luton, Blackburn and Coventry footballer, stands a chance, however slim, of winning £500,000 when he tees off today in the Dunhill Championship in Johannesburg.

"This is as big a shock to me as it is to most of you," the American said yesterday after his practice round. "I am just very happy to be involved and see where it leads. At Luton we played in a League Cup final at Wembley [they lost 3-1 to Nottingham Forest in 1989] but I don't think I was as nervous at Wembley as I was coming down the last two holes in the qualifier on Tuesday. I knew what I was doing at Wembley."

Wegerle, who also played football for his country, turned professional six months ago following a win at a celebrity tour event in the US that earned him £3,500. Wegerle won 40 caps for the US, including appearances at the 1994 and 1998 World Cups.

"I quit football in August 1998 after the World Cup in France and just decided to try something else," he said yesterday. "I started playing and gradually things started to fall into place and here we are now."

The South Africa-born Wegerle sealed his place in the Championship after coming joint third in Tuesday's qualifying event, when he shot a four-under-par 68 in the final round. But he said he did not travel specifically for the tournament.

"I came out originally to visit my family and thought I would bring my clubs along and try a few of these qualifiers, just for experience more than anything else," he said. Now he will line up alongside the likes of Ernie Els and Retief Goosen, but said he will not be looking to them for assistance.

"In team sports you have someone to help you out if you make a mistake, but in this game you are all alone," he said. "When things go wrong it is a very lonely place to be."

Wegerle's attempts to qualify for tournaments on the Buy.com tour in America have so far been unsuccessful but he has identified the USPGA Tour's qualifying school and the European Challenge Tour as his next targets. Even if he fails, Wegerle, who was forced to retire because of knee trouble, is happy at the switch in direction of his career. "It is a nice alternative because there is no one trying to break your leg," he said.

The former Open champion Paul Lawrie was forced to withdraw from the tournament with a back injury sustained earlier in the week.

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