Woosnam squeezes into Open from 70 feet

Former world No 1 survives annual torture chamber by winning five-way play-off to secure one of only seven qualifying places
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The Independent Online

Ian Woosnam walked off Prince's having bogeyed the last two holes and could not have more despondent. But five hours later the former Masters champion chipped in from 70 feet on the first extra hole of a sudden-death play-off to secure a place in the 132nd Open Championship. Woosnam's mood instantly changed. "I am really happy," he said. "I am going home for a pint."

In the annual torture chamber that is Final Qualifying, only seven players from each of the four venues around the Kent coast were extended invitations to tee up on Thursday at Royal St George's. Woosnam, a former world No 1, was easily the most well known still battling to make it through.

He started well by going to the turn in four under but his chance appeared to have gone when he took bogeys at the last two holes. "I have just blown it," Woosnam said. "I played for a flier at the last and didn't get one. I did well to make a five.

"My driving is shocking but I battled well. I got into position with two holes to play but I was not swinging well and that is what happens under pressure," added the 45-year-old who has played in every Open since 1982. "I almost didn't come but everything can change in two days. I needed one par over the last two holes but couldn't do it. I'm not happy about it."

Fortunately for the popular Welshman, everything changed within a few hours. He ended up in a five-way play-off for three spots and was in trouble when he missed the green at the 10th hole. "The ball was lying in a fluffy lie," he said.

"I changed from a wedge to a nine-iron and it was perfect. I thought it would be stiff but I feel really fortunate that it went in. About time I had a bit of luck."

The Australian Scott Hend went out at the first extra hole, but, at the third, Bradford Vaughan, of South Africa, lost a ball and took a seven to let through two other Australians, Matthew Goggin and Cameron Percy.

Andrew Raitt, who has suffered from shoulder and hand injuries for two years, got through without the aid of a play-off. The 33-year-old from Surrey lost part of the little finger on his left hand when he was bitten by a dog in 1995. Last year he claimed £1m in damages from the dog's owner, but the judge awarded him only £49,000, most of which was swallowed up by his costs. After his latest injuries he was unsure about trying to qualify. "But when I drove down and saw the course this week it changed my mind," he said. Raitt has played at St George's regularly with Michael Brooks, the son of the club professional. "It's been great the last two days to be looking across at St George's and now to be heading there. I've played there so many times."

Scott Godrey and Paul Wesselingh were among those to qualify at Littlestone. Wesselingh, a 41-year-old club pro from Derby, set a new course record of 64. "When I came off the course yesterday I was gutted with a 72," he said. "I told myself on the first tee I was seven over and I went out to retrieve those seven shots."

Godrey, an amateur from Cornwall, said he felt sick with nerves. "I felt really nervous," he said. "It's a dream come true. My mum and dad are already here but now my brother will have to close his garage in Wadebridge to get here on Thursday."

Andrew Barnes, the older brother of the US Amateur champion, Ricky, just failed to make it a family affair after he missed out in a four-way play-off that was won by Anthony Wall.

Ben Crane, who won his first title on the US Tour in Atlanta the week prior to the Masters, qualified at Royal Cinque Ports with a 66, the same score as Mark Smith who headed the list on nine under. The 26-year-old Smith is attached to the Erewash Valley club in Derbyshire and has won twice on the Europro Tour, a feeder circuit for the Challenge Tour.

This was Smith's fourth appearance in Final Qualifying and the first time he has made it through to the Open. It will also be Crane's first appearance in the Championship. "This is my first experience of links golf and I love it," said the 27-year-old from Texas.

"It is awesome. I was ecstatic when I saw this course and I'm told St George's is something else. I've only seen it from the road so far." Steven Tiley, the 20-year-old Cinque Ports member who led with a 67 on Sunday, fell out of contention with three double-bogeys in an 80

At North Foreland, Simon Wakefield followed his 61 with a 72, but avoided a play-off by one stroke. A 63 propelled Andrew George, the 39-year-old club pro at Ely, into the Championship for the second time. He was only the fifth alternate for the venue but will be repeating his appearance at Turnberry 11 years ago.

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