Golding relives his School days

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The Independent Online

Pressure, they say, is trying to make your card at the Qualifying School. It is an experience Philip Golding knows all too well. He has been there 16 times, a record.

"It's not the sort of record you want to have," Golding said. "But then I know lots of guys who would love to get to the Qualifying School and have never got there so that's another way of looking at it." Put Golding down as a half-full man. You would have to be to pass your 40th birthday, as he did in July last year, and continue in what has proved to be a perilous career.

A 68 in the third round of the French Open at Le Golf National left the Hertfordshire player leading a European Tour event for the first time going into the final round. A birdie at the par-five 18th hole elevated him above five others when it looked as if there would be a six-way tie at the top of the leaderboard.

Golding's second shot across the water was almost too big - a stream extends around the back of the green - but it caught up in a lush bit of rough and from there he chipped to eight feet and holed the putt.

"I hit a four-iron for my second when it should have been a five," Golding said. "But a wise man once said when playing over water you can either hit one more club or two more shots."

Golding, a talented cricketer as a youngster who has done the odd bit of modelling over the years, first went to the Qualifying School in 1983 when he was still training as an assistant. He was not successful until he earned his card for the 1994 season but has never retained his playing rights.

He came close last year. A closing 63 in his last event, the Italian Open, left him 119th on the Order of Merit, three places away. He almost did not go back to the Qualifying School but, persuaded by his wife Sally and a couple of friends, he eventually did and finished third.

"It's been a long battle," Golding said after admitting that thoughts of packing it in have crossed his mind in the past. His best finish remains a tie for sixth in Austria seven years ago but it was at this event last year that Malcolm Mackenzie, in his 40s in terms of age and in the 500s in terms of events played, won for the first time.

"Winning is, of course, a dream," Golding said. "I shall do my best. I am looking forward but I need to stick to the plan of playing one hole at a time and hitting one shot at a time." A first prize of £290,000 is a considerable incentive for a man who at times was kept on Tour by the generosity of the members at the South Herts club.

Golding began the day two shots behind Thomas Bjorn but both Danes in the final pairing, Anders Hansen being the other, had lost their sizzle. Bjorn bogeyed three of the first seven holes, recovered with three birdies in the next five and added another at the 17th.

His lead had disappeared before he had teed off as Australia's Peter O'Malley got to 11 under with a 66. Pierre Fulke, with a 67, matched him but, like Bjorn, neither David Howell nor fellow Englishman Barry Lane could catch Golding. Lane, 43, has a flat in Paris and had his French in-laws out in support. Four birdies in the last six holes put Lane in the frame on a course he enjoys. The return of the event to a midsummer date has shown it off to its best advantage. "It's beautiful," he said. "It's a dream to play on a course like this in this weather."

Jose Maria Olazabal, the winner in 2001, lurked three strokes off the lead but Justin Rose fell six adrift with a 73.