Confusion reigns on road to 'the big show'

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The Independent Online

As the club pros have huffed and the amateurs have puffed in Ayrshire these past two days it has been difficult to see just what the Royal and Ancient had been trying to achieve by altering the qualifying system for the Open.

A more international field? A more prestigious field? A more exclusive field? Who knows, but by introducing international qualifiers and by persuading the European Tour professionals to abandon the traditional qualifiers and fight for a few places amongst themselves, it is obvious that the R&A now has a field that is not as grand as they, and more importantly the spectators, would probably like it to be.

For while household names such as Justin Rose, Ian Woosnam, Bernhard Langer and José Maria Olazabal will be at home with their feet up next week, those unknowns such as Jonathan Cheetham, Paul Bradshaw and Paul Wesselingh will be wowing the galleries. And while it would be churlish to in any way decry the efforts of any of the 15 heroes who emerged from 384 competitors at the four final qualifying courses yesterday, it is hard not to speculate that some further tinkering is needed by the Championship Committee if it really wants the emphasis to be on quality.

"Nobody wants a closed door," said one Tour professional who preferred to remain nameless yesterday, "but how open do they want The Open to be?" Andrew Oldcorn certainly agreed as he trudged off at Irvine yesterday, thinking he had blown it. He was too angry to comment and not simply because the R&A had denied him a Troon berth he had assumed was his by shortening by two years a five-year Open exemption he had for winning the 2001 Volvo PGA Championship. His comments at the French Open a few weeks previous still rang clear.

"The idea that they have made it easier for Tour players is nonsense," said the Bolton-born Scot before revealing that he had pulled out of the following day's international qualifying event at Sunningdale, where 120 players - including 50 Tour winners - fought for 17 places.

It turned out to be a shrewd move, when Oldcorn survived a five-man play-off with a birdie at the first sudden-death hole to go through with Germany's Sven Struever. Despite what the maths might suggest, it looked far easier to be left standing from the weekend's shootout (where one in 23 went through) than it had been at Sunningdale (one in seven). At Western Gailes not one person broke par yesterday and 28 posted scores in the 80s in conditions that at worst could be described as blustery.

The Killarney professional Dan Sugrue led the way there with a three-under-par total of 139 and was joined at what he called "the big show" by Lewis Atkinson, of Stoke Poges, who at first believed he had taken one too many after a bogey at the last.

At Glasgow Gailes, Simon Dyson, the European Tour regular, eased through with a 72 for a 137 total, while Nottingham's Andrew Willey completed a hectic few days to join the Yorkshireman. And it was a good day for the amateurs as well when two of their number made it through at Turnberry Kintyre.

Steven Tiley and Lloyd Campbell belied youthful exuberance to keep cool heads and emerge into dreamland with 70s. "I came here to qualify and did it," said Campbell. How Rose, Woosnam and Olazabal will be wishing they came as well.

* Tiger Woods got his first taste of a Royal Troon course he remembers as "brutal" yesterday. Woods played a practice round initially only accompanied by his caddie Steve Williams but was later joined by Charles Howell as he got to grips with the blustery conditions. In 1997, he finished joint 24th in the Open at the Ayrshire links course.

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