Tuesday, 27 November 2012
Sihwan Kim   (Getty Images)
Sihwan Kim (Getty Images)

As Estanislao Goya and Andy Sullivan fought it out at the top to finish honours even with 72 holes played at the Qualifying School Final Stage, there were sub-plots of triumph and heartbreak further down the leaderboard as the battle to make the cut was headlined by an inspired Sihwan Kim, while 19 former European Champions slipped out of the marathon contest.

By the close of play on Tuesday, 73 players from across the globe had secured a coveted place in the final two rounds over PGA Catalunya Resort’s spectacular Stadium Course, and with it a shot at the top 25 finish needed on Thursday to either become, or indeed remain, a European Tour Member.

Starting the day tied for 124th place on eight over par after struggling on the Stadium Course in the third round, Kim’s laissez-faire mentality free-wheeled him to a best of the day 63 on Tuesday that saw him make the cut by one shot.

The US-based Korean, who finished 34th in the Challenge Tour Rankings this season after becoming the first from his country to play on the second tier of European golf, started with back-to-back birdies on the Tour Course before a further gain at the par five eighth preceded a spectacular eagle to close his front nine in 30 blows.

A three wood from the tee of the par four had left the 23 year old 112 yards left to the flag and his pin-point accurate sand wedge landed just beyond the flag before spinning back into the hole for a stunning two.

Knowing he still needed to score well over the back nine to have a chance of playing in the final 36 holes, Kim made two further gains at the 14th and 15th to finish seven under par for the day, and the Stanford graduate said it was quite the about-turn in attitude in comparison to how he had been feeling following his third-day 77.

“I didn’t really think much about it,” he said. “Yesterday I just hated playing golf and when I woke up this morning I wasn’t much better so I just said, ‘Let’s just get around and have some fun in Barcelona at the weekend and go back home’.

“Golf is a weird game; it disappoints you and then grants you whatever you like. It was a great round today.

“I wasn’t trying to score too well. I already have my card on the Challenge Tour next year so I was just thinking, ‘whatever’ but I guess I have two more days now.”

Kim, who sprang to the attention of European Tour golf fans by seizing the 36-hole lead in June’s Saint-Omer Open presented by Neuflize OBC before eventually finishing in a tie for 15th place, said that despite his dramatic looking scorecard he had struggled with his driving and iron play on Tuesday and credited his success to his scrambling and putting.

He said: “I got up and down from everywhere and made a lot of par putts from seven to nine feet and that helped me quite a bit.

“I birdied all the hard holes and the easy ones just slipped on me. That two on nine really helped me quite a bit.

“I just have to go as low as I can now. I've got my Challenge Tour card and I'm far back now so I just need to go for the pins and make some putts out there - but because I'm starting to think about it now it probably won’t go so well!”

Scotland’s Andrew McArthur was another to make a cut-day surge up the leaderboard despite the inhospitable playing conditions in northern Spain as rain lashed a chilly and tense PGA Catalunya Resort.

The Glaswegian, who finished 45th in the Challenge Tour Rankings in 2012, fired a five under par 65 on the Tour Course to jump into a tie for 39th on one under par, in the end comfortably making the cut thanks to gains at the sixth and eighth holes on the front nine before a further four on the way home.

“It wasn’t windy so I was just trying to do the simple things,” McArthur reflected. “I played really well the last three rounds. Ever since it got dull I can see the lines of the greens. When the sun is out here at this time of the year I really struggle to get the lines so the first day I was three-putting for fun, it was horrible.”

Three years ago last week, England’s Ross McGowan was picking up a second place at the inaugural DP World Tour Championship in Dubai the month after claiming his maiden European Tour title at the Madrid Masters.

After struggling with injuries and his form over the last couple of years, he is this week making his second appearance at the Final Stage and kept his hopes of a return to The European Tour alive with a four under par 66.

McGowan made a fine start after being tied for 87th overnight on four over par with consecutive birdies at the tenth and 11th holes of the Tour Course, and despite a rusty first round of 77 he still retained realistic hopes of regaining his card.

He said: “I guess experience has a little part to play and I’ll be expecting to make my way up the leaderboard and get into that top 25 come the end.

“It is hard because especially yesterday when we are on the harder course, the leaders are on the easier course and you are seeing lots of birdies going in. When it’s two courses like it is this week it’s tricky because you don’t really know where you are in the field.

“After today it’s a level playing for the weekend and miracles do happen so I’ll just go out there feeling positive and we’ll see what happens.”

But for every success story there was a tale of despair on another dramatic day at the Final Stage, an arena that so frequently produces spectacles of true sporting theatre.

While 2008 Ryder Cup star Oliver Wilson held his nerve to make the cut by one, 2004 BMW PGA Champion Scott Drummond missed it by the same mark after making bogey at his final hole on the Stadium Course, while Cesar Monasterio – the oldest player in the field who turns 49 on Wednesday – also made bogey at the par five 18th of the Tour Course to miss out by one.

Challenge Tour Member Brooks Koepka, meanwhile, had a one shot cushion heading down the last of the Stadium Course but the American posted an unfortunate double bogey to also miss out on the final two rounds by one shot.

Other notable names to suffer as the axe fell in Girona were European Tour champion Rhys Davies, who signed for a six over par 78 to miss out by two, and 2011 Saint-Omer Champion Matthew Zions.

But for the lucky 73, with 72 holes played and 36 to come, the race for the top 25 now begins in earnest.

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