Golf: Singer Walker is a real swinger

Country and western star Clay Walker is used to having people watch him. He once sold 65,000 tickets in a day for a concert in Houston - more than Elvis Presley did at the same venue.

Country and western star Clay Walker is used to having people watch him. He once sold 65,000 tickets in a day for a concert in Houston - more than Elvis Presley did at the same venue.

It is Walker’s prowess as a golfer, however, which is under the microscope this weekend. And not in America, but in Scotland.

Having accompanied former US PGA champion Steve Elkington across the Atlantic for the £3.5m Dunhill Links pro-am championship based at St Andrews, the pair found themselves leading the team event going into today’s second round.

Yet a 13-under-par better-ball score of 59 over the famous Old Course yesterday came only after officials did not get to tell Walker they were cutting his handicap before he teed off.

Only after he and Australian Elkington finished did it come to light that the singer should have been allowed only seven shots rather than 11.

The decision was taken after a practice round which Walker said he completed in a two-over 74, but executive tournament director Peter German said: ‘‘The championship committee informed the tournament office of the change, but the tournament office was unable to effect the change prior to Clay Walker teeing off.’’

After four birdies had helped Walker to improve 12 strokes on Elkington’s one-under-par 71 John Paramor, chief referee of the European tour, added: ‘‘There is no question of any skulduggery or breach of the rules. The player signed for gross scores which are correct and therefore there is no question of disqualification.’’

A statement from the championship committee said: ‘‘Although handicapped as a verified 11 by his home club The Champions Club, Houston, Texas, and specifically by Jackie Burke, former Ryder Cup captain, Clay has happily accepted the championship committee’s decision to cut his handicap to seven.’’

It was applying for the remaining three rounds, starting at Carnoustie this morning.

Elkington, who plays a lot of golf with Clay, confirmed to officials that before yesterday’s round Walker had not broken 90 since arriving in Scotland.

Walker, on his first trip out of America and lined up to perform at the championship gala dinner tomorrow night, said of his practice: ‘‘I shot a 94 at Kingsbarns, a 90 at Carnoustie and a 74 at St Andrews. You can tell which course I prefer!

‘‘I had a great day out there. Teeing up on the first brought tears to my eyes. I’ve played Augusta and Pebble Beach many times, but nothing compares to St Andrews.’’

The prize fund in the team event is just under £140,000 for the professionals, but that is only a quarter of the winner’s cheque in their individual competition and Elkington already has some catching up to do in that.

Two South Africans led overnight, Omar Sandys after a 65 at St Andrews and Ernie Els matching that at Carnoustie a round which was only one off the course record.

Only eight of 52 players were able to finish at Kingsbarns, however, following two fog delays, and among them Padraig Harrington resumed this morning on four under par with seven holes to play.

In the Order of Merit race, which could well be decided on Sunday, another South African, Retief Goosen, opened with a 69 at Carnoustie and is three ahead of Darren Clarke, whom he leads by £460,000.

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