Playing golf for a living must give you more grey hairs than you'd see on a Lochs and Glens Bus Tour.

Missed cuts here, crippling expenses there, wayward shots God knows where. In this predictably unpredictable pursuit, the fortunes can change in an instant, of course. By his own admission, Jamie McLeary had been "playing s**t on the European Tour."

Eight missed cuts in a row during a torrid rookie season on the main circuit would appear to have backed up that far from flattering self-assessment. Yesterday at sun-soaked Gailes Links in Ayrshire, the 33-year-old made the cut for the biggest championship of them all in the Open's final qualifier. His seven-under tally of 135 , bolstered by a sparkling course record eight-under 63 in the morning, led the way until the evening shadows were lengthening as Marc Warren finished with a flourish and holed a bunker shot on the 18th in a 64 to steal top spot with a 133.

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Two Scots then became three when Paul McKechnie, who came through the regional qualifier at Bruntsfield a week ago, trundled in a birdie putt of eight feet on the first play-off hole to edge out Rhys Davies for the final place. A clean sweep for the triumphant tartan army.

Like a sultry siren warbling on an outcrop, the 36-hole Open qualifier lures players in with enticing possibilities only to leave the hopes and dreams of the vast majority shattered like a galleon on the rocks.

With 72 players vying for just three places - there were 12 in total at four venues across the UK - it was never going to be plain sailing for McLeary but he set about his task with considerable gusto and that superb opening card of 63, which shaved four shots off the course record and included an eagle-2 from the bunker on the 13th, left him five strokes clear at the halfway stage.

McLeary had been in a similarly lofty position on the leaderboard this time last year when he led the qualifying field at North Berwick after the opening round only to slither off the top and eventually miss the mark by a shot. Three leaked shots on the first four holes of his afternoon round had the 'not again' thoughts careering round the head but he steadied the ship with a spirited salvage operation and three birdies in a row from the 14th got him back on track. A wayward drive into the heather on the last came to rest in a tangly, heathery lie which onlooking Gailes professional John Greaves described as "murderous".

McLeary got away with murder, though, hacking out 50 yards short of the green before conjuring a tidy up-and-down to save his par, post a one-over 72 and coast into the Hoylake showpiece.

"This could turn my season around," said Challenge Tour graduate McLeary. "This means that in the last six or seven months I've done two of the things I most wanted to do as a golfer: get on the European Tour and play in the Open."

Warren has won twice on the tour and played in the Open last year but, having missed the cut on his debut at Muirfield, he has some unfinished business. "You want good memories of playing in an Open and missing the cut by just one or two last year was very frustrating," he said.

McKechnie, who closed with a 67, held his nerve against Davies and gave a vigorous pump of the fist as his play-off putt disappeared down the hole. "You sometimes say to yourself when you're practising your putting: 'this for the Open'," said McKechnie.

The dream came true last night.