Rose hoping to follow Garcia's lead

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The Independent Online

Justin Rose feels ready to try to follow in Sergio Garcia's footsteps after finally emerging from a year-long nightmare.

Justin Rose feels ready to try to follow in Sergio Garcia's footsteps after finally emerging from a year-long nightmare.

The 19-year-old from Hampshire, who shot to fame by coming fourth in the 1998 Open as an amateur and then as a professional missed 21 successive cuts, is looking forward to returning to the European circuit next season.

And this time he will be there on his own merit rather than the generosity of sponsors.

"That's a nice feeling," said Rose after finishing joint third at the qualifying school in Spain yesterday, four strokes behind Scottish winner Alastair Forsyth. The £4,000 reward was the biggest cheque of his career so far.

Having already come through four rounds of pre-qualifying with flying colours, Rose succeeded where ex-Ryder Cup pair Philip Walton and Paul Way and 12 more former tournament winners failed.

"What a relief," added the youngster, whose life has been lived in the media spotlight since his heroics at Birkdale 16 months ago.

"Tour life was probably tough at first looking back. I didn't have any great friends, but I think I have some other players I can develop friendships now and hopefully that will make a difference.

"But the reason I struggled was all game-related. I was struggling off the tee and didn't give myself a chance to score.

"It was as black and white as that. I know what my potential was and I didn't perform to it. But I'm more carefree now."

While Rose missed cut after cut, fellow 19-year-old Garcia launched his professional career this season by winning almost £1million in Europe and almost a million dollars in America, pushing Tiger Woods to the limit at the United States PGA championship, becoming the youngest player in Ryder Cup history, winning three times and finishing third on the Order of Merit.

It was a dream debut and Rose, whose own finish was 197th with £6,741, admitted: "Of course I envied the start he has made. I envy his attitude - he was prepared to take the bull by the horns - and I have tried to copy it.

"I think I am better equipped now. Coming through the school (at his second attempt) could end up in career terms far more important than anything.

"What I did at the Open would have been that if I had taken advantage of my chances, but I didn't and I'm just so happy now to have given myself another chance."

So has fellow Hampshire player Steve Richardson, runner-up to Seve Ballesteros on the 1991 Order of Merit and a member of Europe's Ryder Cup team that year.

It was a close run thing for the 33-year-old, however. Richardson, a sad 218th on the money list this season with a mere £4,036 from 20 starts, survived the school with just a single stroke to spare.

"Mentally there is nothing harder than this and I'm not sure I would have the courage to enter again," he said. "It was all guts on the last day and very little skill."

With that he went off "for a few beers", having stayed off drink for the nine days he was in Spain fighting for his future.

Kent's Roger Chapman, another member of the European tour's Millionaires Club after six runners-up finishes, made it through in joint 11th place - 42 earned cards - and spoke eloquently about what the experience was like.

Chapman, who had not been back to the school since the year he turned pro in 1981, stated: "That was unbelievable. Nothing prepares you for it.

"It was like 108 first holes of the British Open. Every tee you feel nervous and I will never do it again.

"It was just hell. For 18 years I've heard people say what this is like, but other people have no conception of how it feels until you go through it.

"I could have had 15 or 20 starts through invites (Rose had 16), but I had to go this for my own pride, so no-one could accuse me of getting invites."

There were also those, of course, for whom the week did not end happily.

Walton and Way were the two biggest casualties, Way failing for the fourth year running and Walton collapsing to closing rounds of 81 and 77 to finish 77th and last of those who made the 72-hole cut.

"It's back to the drawing board now - I'll have to get invites," said the Dubliner, who from being 13th in Europe in 1985 and the hero of the Ryder Cup crashed to 160th on the money list this year.

First stop after a few days to recover from the qualifying ordeal ("a prison sentence" he called it) is California next week, however, for laser surgery to correct an astigmatism.

Others like Yorkshire's Stuart Cage, winner of the Cannes Open only two years ago, will spend time thinking what they want to do.

Cage bogeyed the last-but-one of the 108 holes to miss keeping his card by one.

The performance of the week came from Paisley 23-year-old Forsyth, who pushed Swede Niclas Fasth into second place and so added a further £10,000 to the £45,000 he won in topping both the Mastercard British mini-tour and Tartan Tour this season.

He has had a good 1999, but he is hoping 2000 is even better when he moves up to the Premier Division against the likes of fellow Scot Colin Montgomerie, Lee Westwood and Garcia.