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Golf: Missed five-foot putt ends Webster's US dream.

Byline: By James Nursey at Walton Heath

Amid the early-morning gloom in Surrey yesterday, 53 professional golfers took their first steps towards potential glory at next week's United States Open.

Warwickshire's in-form pro Steve Webster was among the field vying for one of nine places at Pinehurst in the 36hole European qualifier.

But the 30-year-old from Atherstone, who was tied 15th at Celtic Manor last weekend, blew his chances of a first US Open appearance with a disappointing second round.

Webster shot a four-under par 68 in the morning on Walton Heath's Old Course to put himself firmly in contention.

He putted excellently in his opening round and was level par on the 7,029-yard New Course in the afternoon when a missed five-foot putt at the last meant he finished on 140 - one shot outside the top nine.

Peter Hanson and Jonathan Lomas were highest-placed on 134 but Simon Dyson, Srren Kjelden, Nick Dougherty, Michael Campbell, Robert Karlsson, Jose-Filipe Lima and Peter Hedblom also qualified for the US PGA's premier event.

Shropshire-born Scott Drummond missed out by five shots, though, while Droitwich's John Bickerton, who tied 44th in Wales, and Miles Tunnicliff, who was born in Leamington, withdrew before even hitting a ball following their recent indifferent displays.

With hindsight, Webster probably wishes he hadn't bothered as well after just failing to secure one of the coveted places.

The golfer was left to rue his busy schedule which prevented him from playing a practice round on the unfamiliar course.

As well as not knowing the lie of the land, Webster also had to contend with serious fatigue.

'I played well in the morning but I was so tired in the afternoon,' said Webster, who is now well down the reserve list for Pinehurst.

'I started struggling and couldn't get going really - I didn't hit any good shots on the closing stretch which is unusual for me.

'But I didn't have the foggiest where to go sometimes; I ripped one drive and it went straight in the heather.

'There was a burger bar on that hole and I aimed just left of that, but it ended up in deep heather.

'I took five on that hole and that just summed it up really - if I had been fresh I would have really fancied it.'

Yesterday's event was the first time the US PGA have staged a qualifier outside of America.

In the past, players on the European Tour who are not ranked in the world's top 50 had to go to the States to try to qualify.

Webster and the large contingent of British players were grateful for the opportunity to qualify on home soil for the 105th US Open in North Carolina. But Webster believed one round rather than two would have been sufficient and enticed many more players to enter the event, which is intended to cater for 100 participants He added: 'I thought 18 holes would have been enough and then you would have got more lads coming.

'Thirty-six holes in a day after a lot of players have done four days on the trot in Wales was tough.

'It was like the old amateur days and it is hard work to keep your concentration for eight hours or so.'

Webster plans to take three weeks off before competing at Gleneagles and in next month's Open at St Andrews - where he will definitely get an opportunity to test himself against the world's best.

Yesterday's successful young British pros like Dyson, Lomas and Dougherty are already dreaming of doing just that at Pinehurst, however.

Dyson said: 'I haven't had a chance to play in the US before. I was meant to be going on holiday to Spain with my girlfriend next week but that's definitely off now

CAPTION(S):

Steve Webster hits his tee shot at the 15th hole at Walton Heath yesterday in his attempt to qualify for the United States Open
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jun 7, 2005
Words:655
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