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Graeme Storm is one round away from Royal Liverpool. (Photo: Getty Images)
Graeme Storm is one round away from Royal Liverpool. (Photo: Getty Images)

Storm leads Local Final Qualifying at West Lancashire

A day after tying for fourth at the Smurfit European Open, Graeme Storm fired a 68 to keep alive his chances of making the field.

LONDON (PA) -- A day after picking up a check for more than $150,000 at the Smurfit European Open on Sunday, Graeme Storm on Monday found himself one of 384 players fighting for 12 places in next week's Open Championship. And all because of a missed eight-foot putt.

Storm's tie for fourth place at the K Club was easily his best performance of the season. But if his short birdie attempt on the 18th had gone in rather than trickled past the edge, he would be in the Open rather than trying to qualify for it in Local Final Qualifying on Monday and Tuesday.

In the first of the two rounds at West Lancashire, however, Storm, 28, returned a 4-under 68 to keep alive his hopes of grabbing one of the three spots on offer there.

Four courses are being used for the final qualifying, brought forward a week this year, and Storm opted for this route rather than the recent European qualifier at Sunningdale.

"I was disappointed last night because I was one putt away from getting in the Open [plus it would have more than doubled his money to almost $350,000], but I've been looking forward to this," he said.

Heavyweight caddie Steve Rawlinson was not as enamored, though. He was at the course at 6:15 a.m. and walked all 18 holes, making notes, before picking up Storm's bag and then doing it all over again.

Mind you, he could prove a lucky omen. Back in 1991, Rawlinson, who worked for Colin Montgomerie for a while, caddied for Yorkshire amateur Patrick Hall when he won a 10-man playoff at West Lancs and qualified for the Birkdale Open won by Ian Baker-Finch.

There had been only one exempt spot on offer at the European Open and Anthony Wall of England claimed it when his closing 35-foot putt took him into a tie for second with Spaniard Jose Manuel Lara.

Wall made it by virtue of having the better last-round score, but if Storm's putt had dropped he would have had a 69 to Wall's 73 and Lara's 74.

Storm ended Monday in a three-way tie for the lead with Essex amateur Jack Hiluta and professional Andrew Clarke, with American Kevin Stadler -- son of former Masters champion Craig -- four behind following a level-par 72.

The 1991 Open Rawlinson remembers was the one in which Jim Payne played with Jack Nicklaus in the final round and hugely impressed him in becoming winner of the silver medal as top amateur.

Fifteen years on, Payne, who went on to be the European Tour's Rookie of the Year and win the 1993 Italian Open, no longer plays the circuit and is club professional at Southport and Ainsdale. But he could be back in the Open next week.

The 36-year-old scored a 5-under 67 to lead by one over France's Gregory Havret, the 2001 Italian Open winner.

Elliot Saltman of Scotland had a 75 there and with sibling Zack managing only a 7-over 79 at West Lancs, there is little chance of either of them emulating their brother Lloyd, who was top amateur at St. Andrews last year and finished a spectacular 15th.

Wentworth amateur Seve Benson -- named, of course, after the three-time Open champion Seve Ballesteros -- had a 4-under 68 at Wallasey and is in second place, one behind Yorkshire professional Gary Day.

Two-time British Amateur champion Gary Wolstenholme, who last month lost a playoff in the qualifying tournament for the U.S. Open, lies just two further back, but after a 74 Andrew Oldcorn needs a really low round to make it through the course where he first made his name.

Oldcorn, who became a Scot after turning professional, won the 1982 English Amateur at Royal Liverpool and back there the following year became the first Britain and Ireland amateur to win a maximum four points in the Walker Cup.

Finland's Mikko Ilonen won the 2000 British Amateur at Hoylake and with a 3-under 69 is out in front at Conwy by one over 1996 British champion Warren Bladon, from Leamington Spa.

Kent's Paul Page, who beat Tiger Woods at the 1993 U.S. Amateur, struggled to a 77 five days after winning a regional qualifier.

Copyright 2006 PA Sport. All rights reserved.

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