THE 126th OPEN: Howard shows serious bottle

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Barclay Howard survived to the final rounds at the Open Championship yesterday bringing a novel meaning to a word he knew too well. Having been half-cut for much of his adult life, making the cut at Royal Troon was something special, writes Guy Hodgson.

Howard, 44, hit a 74 yesterday which left him two over for the championship and ahead of such luminaries as Tiger Woods, Bernhard Langer and Tom Lehman. As far as the Scot was concerned, just to reach the last two days was worth an Open victory. "I'm just delighted to be playing four rounds with these superstars," he said.

To be at Troon at all is a triumph for Howard whose glittering early amateur career included Walker Cup caps. Then came the many lost years as an alcoholic when his golf bag used to bulge with cans of beer and his ambitions extended no further than the next shot of alcohol.

Only when he got to his thirties did Howard pull himself together, his return to sobriety being crowned by qualifying for this tournament.

On the first day he was one of 10 players below par and yesterday he shot to three under when he holed putts of three and 50 feet at the fourth and fifth.

Then the heart-racing realisation of what he could achieve hit him. "I was fine until I came off the 13th," he said, "and suddenly I realised I was so close to making the cut and I froze.

"In the first round I was going for things but today I became very defensive. I felt the pressure."

From reaching the leaderboard, he had bogeys at the seventh, 10th, 14th, 15th and 17th. Suddenly he was puffing maniacally at his cigarettes; a nightmare last and the axe would fall in front of him and when his approach was short of the green the possibility was there.

"I was desperate to make it," Howard said. "The crowd were fantastic. I could hear shouts of `dig in Barclay, dig in'. They kept me going."

He chose a safety-first putter to get his ball near and then rolled in a putt from six, nervy feet to survive the cut by three shots.

His prize will come tomorrow when he will win the silver medal as the top amateur. For a man who gave up the bottle, he will be rewarded for showing it.