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Warren Bladon will squeeze the Open Championship into his work schedule. (Photo: Getty Images)
Warren Bladon will squeeze the Open Championship into his work schedule. (Photo: Getty Images)

Qualifying ends with 12 sealing their spots at Hoylake

A dozen players emerged from more than 300 finalists in four final qualifiers played near Liverpool on Monday and Tuesday.

LIVERPOOL, England (PA) -- Former British Amateur champion Warren Bladon will be back playing the Open Championship next week, thanks to his girlfriend forking out $200 to pay his entry fee.

"I couldn't afford it, so she put it on her credit card," said the 40-year-old from Leamington Spa, now a picture framer and part-time plumber, after surviving the 36-hole Local Final Qualifying competition at Conwy on Tuesday.

It was money well spent. Even if he finishes last at Royal Liverpool, Bladon, who won the British Amateur 10 years ago, will take away a check for about $4,000. And should he lift the claret jug, of course, he will be almost $1.4 million richer.

"I have a partner and a daughter, but no money," he added after rounds of 70 and 72 to take one of only three qualifying places on offer at Conwy from a starting line-up of 96.

Just to get to that stage, Bladon had come through regional qualifying last Wednesday. But now he will line up alongside Tiger Woods just as he did in the 1996 and 1997 Opens and at the 1997 Masters, when he shot 79-72 and Woods, of course, won his first major as a professional.

Their careers have taken rather different paths since. Bladon has played only three events this year -- one on the EuroPro mini-tour, then the regional qualifier, now this.

"I'm very pleased given my lack of golf," he said. "But it's back to work tomorrow."

On 2-under-par, he finished alongside 2000 British Amateur champion Mikko Ilonen of Finland, three behind Weymouth professional Jon Bevan.

On his one and only previous appearance in the Open, Bevan shot 81-80 at Carnoustie in 1999. Mind you, he was still 11 ahead of Sergio Garcia.

"That was the hardest course I've ever played and this is the second hardest," he said after a superb 6-under 66.

Jim Payne, who played with Jack Nicklaus in becoming leading amateur at the 1991 Open but gave up the European Tour six years ago, won the qualifier at Formby by one over Norfolk's Andrew Marshall and Kent's Darren Parris.

Payne, who now works as club professional at Southport and Ainsdale, scored 67 and 71.

Austrian Markus Brier, who won his home Open exactly a month ago, came in late in the day at Wallasey with a 67 that crushed the hopes of Wentworth amateur Seve Benson. Brier joined the Yorkshire pair of Danny Dennison and Gary Day, with 19-year-old Benson missing out by virtue of the 30-foot putt on the last that lipped out of the hole.

Benson, named after the three-time Open champion Seve Ballesteros, spent six hours looking as if he might make it through, but now will have to try again next year.

Yorkshire's Nick Ludwell, Cumbrian Gary Lockerbie and Cornwall's Adam Frayne took the three spots at West Lancashire, where joint overnight leader Graeme Storm slumped to a 79.

Storm, fourth in the European Open on Sunday and an eight-foot putt away from gaining a place in the Open there, must now finish in the top 10 of this week's Barclay's Scottish Open to have a chance of qualifying for Hoylake.

He had a simply bizarre finishing stretch. The former British Amateur champion had a double-bogey at the 13th, a quadruple-bogey two holes later, a double-bogey on the next, a birdie at the 17th and then holed a 99-yard pitch to the last for an eagle.

Others who failed to make it through included Kevin Stadler, son of former Masters champion Craig Stadler; James Conteh, son of former world boxing champion John Conteh; and Alejandro Canizares, son of former Ryder Cup hero Jose-Maria Canizares of Spain.

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