2002: Competition - British qualifiers forced to go low

Gullane, Scotland

If British Open qualifying proved anything July 15, it was that players could forget about shooting level par to earn a tee time for the game’s oldest championship.

Par golf just doesn’t cut it anymore. Not by a long shot.

Only 27 spots were available from four qualifying venues this year, which meant shoot low or pack your bags.

Steve Elkington thought he might not qualify when he double bogeyed the last hole at Dunbar. The 1995 PGA Championship winner was 7 under par for two rounds when he walked off the 17th green. He seemed safely in the Open until he slipped on the 18th tee and pushed his drive into deep rough. Elkington could only hack the ball out sideways, but it flew over the fairway and out of bounds.

Elkington dropped another ball in the rough, but managed to limit the damage to a double bogey. Then the nervous wait began to see if he was going to play in his 12th British Open. The Australian made it on the mark at 5-under 137.

Of nine PGA Tour players competing, Elkington, Luke Donald, Esteban Toledo and John Senden were the four to advance. Mark Brooks, Jay Haas, Scott Dunlap, David Frost and Mike Sposa were the five unlucky ones.

Donald, a former Northwestern star, had rounds of 67-69 to make it into his third British Open Championship, but only his first as a professional. Donald tied for 18th in last month’s U.S. Open, and says that has him in a good frame of mind for the challenge of Muirfield.

“Bethpage proved to me that my game is good enough to stand up at this level,” Donald said.

Even though this was his first visit to Scotland, Toledo felt at home on the Dunbar links, firing rounds of 67-69. He made it to Muirfield with a shot to spare.

“I was brought up in the wind in Mexico,” Toledo said. “I always play well when the wind blows. I can keep it low in the wind. I came here feeling I could play in the British Open.”

Abbas-Ali Mawji’s dream of becoming the youngest British Open competitor since Young Tom Morris ended when he shot 76 in the second round at Luffness New. Mawji, a 15-year-old, English-born Zimbabwean, had raised expectations with an opening 68, but missed too many fairways in the second round. “I kept finding the rough, but I will learn from this experience,” he said. Morris was 14 when he played in the 1865 British Open.

For the record, level par would have missed qualifying by eight shots at Gullane, by five shots at Dunbar, by six shots at North Berwick and by four at Luffness New.

Short shots: Paul Azinger withdrew from the British Open July 15, citing an undisclosed injury. His manager said in a letter to the Royal & Ancient Golf Club that Azinger suffered a “minor injury.” Azinger was the 54-hole leader at Muirfield in the 1987 British Open and finished one stroke behind champion Nick Faldo. . . . Gary Player withdrew July 12 from British Open qualifying because of a severely pulled rib muscle. “I am just devastated and cannot put into words my deep disappointment,” Player said. “I have so many devoted fans and friends in Britain, and I love the Open.” Player will rehab the injury in Palm Beach, Fla., and may not play in the British Senior Open July 25-28 at Royal County Down in Northern Ireland.

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