Controversy at British Open qualifying

Jul 2, 2007 - 3:05 PM By Mark Garrod Special to PA SportsTicker

SUNNINGDALE, London (Ticker) - Memories of the farcical scenes at the 2004 U.S. Open came flooding back at Sunningdale on Monday when play was suspended in the British Open qualifying event.

Eight European Tour players were caught up in controversy over the positioning of the hole on the fourth green of the Old Course.

Argentina's Ricardo Gonzalez five-putted and Australian Brett Rumford four-putted after hitting his tee shot to two feet.

The same had happened on the eighth hole in the final round at Shinnecock Hills in New York two years ago, but this time officials reacted differently.

British Open Championship committee chairman Martin Kippax immediately admitted to making a mistake and then took the decision that the hole would be repositioned and the eight affected players would play it again.

Amid fury at Shinnecock, the scores all had to stand, with Kevin Stadler hitting a two-foot putt into a bunker and fellow American Jerry Kelly commenting: "When is the USGA going to grow a head?"

The eight were taken in buggies back to the fourth tee to try again - with very different results.

Swede Fredrik Andersson Hed was furious because after a par three the first time, he double-bogeyed and had to change his four-under-par 66 to a 68.

"I think the European Tour should do the pins," he said.

"Every time I've played in an event run by the R&A there have been one or two that were barely playable."

England's Richard Bland was unhappy too. He birdied the first time after being 18 inches from a hole-in-one, but then took three and went from 72 to 73.

The happiest, though, was Gonzalez. Instead of a triple-bogey six, he parred and with a three-under 67 was the early leader on the course.

"It's not rocket science not to put the flag where it was," said Bland. "Anything with a small bit of speed that didn't go in was going to roll off the green, as I saw with Ricardo.

"Because I'd made a two, I asked if I had to play it again and was told 'yes'."

Kippax said: "I chose the pin positions because of the weather we've had and the forecast we had for today. The chance of thunderstorms meant I chose a place where we would hopefully be able to continue play.

"I tried to be sensible about it, but there are limited options on the fourth. The safest place is in a hollow, so instead I chose a place that was within a foot of where it was last year. I was then made aware by a referee that we had a potential problem. I went out and saw it was in an unplayable position, so, after consulting with various people, I suspended play and moved the pin position. I admit it was a mistake and the responsibility lies on me."

Last year's Ryder Cup captain, Ian Woosnam, returned from his illness layoff with a 69.

"My legs are tired and with another round yet I'll be whacked tomorrow," said the former Masters champion, who has not completed an event all year because of post-viral fatigue syndrome.

Nick Dougherty, seventh at last month's U.S. Open, fired a six-under 64 on the Old and shared top spot at the end of the first round with Portugal's Jose-Filipe Lima.

The number of qualifying spots has been increased from 12 to 16.

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