Ian Woonam is likely to go down in Open Championship history as the greatest extra club vicim of all time. But whatever about the Welshman’s demise at the hands of an Irish caddie in the final round of the 2001 Open at Royal Lytham and St Annes, David Higgins joined him as a footnote yesterday when he lost out on a potential spot in The Open at Muirfield when he discovered a 15th club in his bag during a three-man play-off for two spots at Local Final Qualifying.
The affable Waterville man, 40, had twice qualified for The Open before, but there was to be no third time lucky at North Berwick after he appeared to put the offending 15th club in his bag himself.
Struggling on tour this season and in dire need of a big week, he shot rounds of 70 and 67 to lie joint second on five under par and appear assured of at least a playoff for one of three spots at Muirfield in two weeks’ time.
But according to the R&A media spokesman on the spot, Higgins’ local caddie [not his regular bagman] explained later that the Kerryman had put his clubs away in the boot of his car after 36 holes.
A fairway wood was lying on the floor of the boot and Higgins appears to have put it in his bag and forgotten to remove it in time for a three-way play off for two spots with Welsman Gareth Wright and Scotland’s George Murray after amateur Jimmy Mullen had topped the qualifiers on six under thanks to a second successive 68.
The play-off ended disastrously for Higgins at the first extra hole when he spotted the distincive head cover on his rogue fairway as he reached for his putter. He had 15 clubs in his bag, brought the matter to the attention of an official and was penalised two shots, turing a par that would have extended the play-off.
Wright made a 10-foot birdie putt there and Murray joined him with a par as Higgins was forced to sign for a costly double bogey six that denied him a third appearance in the Open after missed cuts in Carnoustie (2007) and Turnberry (2009).
Understandably, Higgins did not hang around to talk to the press but Murray told reporters: “Obviously it’s magic to play in The Open and I’m really excited. I do feel bad about what happened to David, but he was totally honest and came straight out with it when he realised his mistake.”
It was day to forget for the 13 Irish players among the 288 who competed at four LFQ venues for 12 spots in The Open.
Also at North Berwick, Derry’s Mick McGeady double bogeyed the 14th and could only repair some of the damage with a birdie at the 15th as he added a 71 to his opening 67 to miss out on the play-off by a stroke.
Glasson’s Colm Moriarty also missed out by a stroke on six under at Dunbar, where amateur Ben Stow took top spot on two under. Playing just his second event after quitting the Challenge Tour in frustration nine months ago, Moriarty opened with a 65 to take the first round lead and said: “I’m not quite sure where this came from. I’d become totally disillusioned with golf and this is only my second tournament back.”
He followed it with scrappy 69 to miss out by a shot on six under as amateur Kevin Phelan finished two shots away from the magic number despite a bogey free 66 in the afternoon.
Danny Sugrue was three shots outside the qualifying mark at Gullane No 1 where Colin Montgomerie missed out by four strokes.
Followed by large crowds throughout, eight time European Tour No 1 Montgomerie was leading at five-under after 12 holes but had to be content with an opening 2-under-par 69 which was still good enough for a share of third spot.
But after following up with a 76, the 50 year old said: “I threw it away - never mind. It’s not my schedule. I just played badly this afternoon. I didn’t get going at all. It’s very disappointing after being five-under.”
Amateur Gavin Moynihan from The Island looked to have a chance when he posted a three under par total at The Musselburgh but was overtaken by later finishers such as Lloyd Saltman and missed out by three shots on three under after rounds of 71 and 68 left him joint fifth.
1 MULLEN, Jimmy (A) Royal North Devon 68 68 136 -6 Qualified
T2 WRIGHT, Gareth West Linton 69 68 137 -5 Qualified
T2 MURRAY, George Unattached 73 64 137 -5 Qualified
T2 HIGGINS, David Waterville 70 67 137 -5
T5 MCGEADY, Michael Unattached 67 71 138 -4
1 FORREST, Grant (A) Craigielaw 67 65 132 -8 Qualified
T2 KAPUR, Shiv India 69 64 133 -7 Qualified
T2 WADE, John Australia 70 63 133 -7 Qualified
T4 MORIARTY, Colm Glasson 65 69 134 -6
T8 PHELAN, Kevin (A) Waterford Castle 69 66 135 -5
T15 MCCARROLL, Brendan Team Ireland 67 70 137 -3
T21 O’BRIAIN, Neil Old Conna 69 70 139 -1
GULLANE NO 1
1 STOW, Ben (A) Rushmore 72 68 140 -2 Qualified
T2 FLOREN, Oscar Sweden 72 69 141 -1 Qualified
T2 FITZPATRICK, Matthew (A) Hallamshire 69 72 141 -1 Qualified
T8 SUGRUE, Daniel Killarney 75 69 144 +2
30 JONES, David Bushfoot 72 77 149 +7
T41 FRANKLIN, Shane Unattached 76 77 153 +11
1 TILEY, Steven Unattached 64 69 133 -9 Qualified
T2 SALTMAN, Lloyd Archerfield Links 68 68 136 -6 Qualified
T2 HATTON, Tyrrell Harleyford 69 67 136 -6 Qualified
T5 MOYNIHAN, Gavin (A) The Island 71 68 139 -3
T22 RAWLUK, David The Island 71 74 145 +3
T35 KILPATRICK, Richard Banbridge 76 71 147 +5
T44 KEARNEY, Aaron (A) Castlerock 70 78 148 +6