Senior Open Championship Preview
Legends have descended upon the Old Course at St. Andrews for the Senior Open, which promises to be the biggest and most significant in the history of the event. Possessing major status on both the PGA Tour Champions and Staysure Tour, the staging at this year's iconic venue has only served to elevate the championship further, with record crowds expected to watch many of the most famous names in the game seeking to achieve a rare victory at the spiritual Home of Golf.
The formidable Bernhard Langer is defending the title he won brilliantly for a third time at Royal Porthcawl 12 months ago. The 60-year-old German has arrived in the Auld Grey Toon fresh off an impressive T-24th finish in last week's Open Championship at Carnoustie. The two-time Masters champion is hoping to win his 11th major title on the over-50s circuit - extending his own record of achievement - and he may also have a score to settle with this revered links having finished runner-up alongside Tom Watson behind Seve Ballesteros in the memorable Open of 1984.
“That Open Championship is probably the one that got away from me,” he said in remarks ahead of the event. “I felt like I had the game to win The Open. I got myself into contention many times, not just once or twice.
“St Andrews in 1984 was one of those times. I seem to remember that I out-played Seve tee-to-green, but he out-putted me.
“It was fun being part of that, but it wasn’t fun missing a lot of the putts I feel I could have made, or should have made. But that’s golf; there’s 14 different clubs and you have to be in command of all of them, not just 13.”
Nonetheless, the Ryder Cup icon remains bouyant about the experience of playing another tournament here. “We’re all really excited to be coming back to St Andrews,” added the victorious 2004 European captain. “It’s a phenomenal golf course, and the possibility of winning my fourth Senior Open Championship there is a thrill.
“But, whatever the outcome may be, it’s just great to be there and playing on that fantastic golf course.”
Likewise, Watson, the five-time Open champion, who agonisingly lost here 34 years ago to the swashbuckling Spaniard, and memorably bowed out from the oldest and greatest championship in golf at St Andrews in 2015, is back with ghosts of his own to the lay to rest.
“The superlatives are sometimes overdone,” the 68-year-old said. “But you have to admit that having any tournament on the Old Course at St Andrews will be a really special event.
“It means a great deal to be able to play in The Senior Open at St Andrews for a variety of reasons; but the main reason is the history of the Old Course. It’s an iconic name, an iconic place and it’s a wonderful place to be for a tournament or without a tournament. St Andrews is a lovely town and I always enjoyed my time there.”
Completing his Open career in the dusk of a Friday night, the celebrated American - who now plays a limited schedule but was instrumental in bringing the Senior version to Fife - is hoping to at least walk up those well-trodden steps behind the 18th having played what is probably the most photographed hole in golf in a more convincing fashion than he did last time.
“We were asked on the 17th tee whether we wanted to continue and I deferred to Ernie [Els] and Brandt [Snedeker]. I said ‘you fellas are in this tournament. It’s your call; if you want to play, play. If you don’t want to, I’m good with that and I can finish tomorrow’.
“Without missing a beat, Ernie said: ‘I’m in. I’m playing’ and Brandt said the same thing.
“The Senior Open this year allows me to rectify my last hole of Open Championship golf. It was a pretty good drive, a shank and a three-putt for bogey. I’d like to get even with that just a little bit.”
Swapping the microphone for his golf clubs, Sir Nick Faldo is back at St Andrews to walk in the footsteps of his dominant Open victory in 1990. The 61-year-old Englishman has returned 40 years after he contended for the Claret Jug in 1978, ultmately finishing four shots back of Jack Nicklaus. However, that experience proved inspirational for the eventual six-time major champion, who made it a career ambition to win on the Old Course, something he achieved over a decade later.
“If you’re going to win The Open, St Andrews is the course that many would choose to do it,” said the World Golf Hall of Famer. “The more you play the course, the more you understand the different positions, the dangers and how to work the greens.
“The history of the place is amazing. I love the town, there’s a real atmosphere in the air. I have taken people who don’t play golf there and they really feel the buzz. You put all of that together and it’s a really special spot.”
“I arrived in 1990 on a mission. I won the Masters, I lipped out at the U.S. Open, and I vowed to myself that I would win The Open,” added Faldo.
“My preparation went well and I felt really good about my game. I set myself a goal of five under par each day and on the first day I’m on the last and I’m three under. I looked at the leaderboard at the back of the green and I saw that six under par was leading.
“I knew I needed to make a move. I did plot that chip shot on the 18th. The ball going in was a bonus, but I had it worked out, I knew roughly where I wanted the ball to land and then roll. That’s why the emotion was there. I set a goal and then chipped in to finish five under.”
“It was a great moment walking off the 18th tee,” said Faldo. “At other majors I’ve won it’s always been a case of head down and blinkers on. I remember turning to Fanny (Sunesson) and saying ‘look up, take this in’.
“Seeing all the colour around the course was incredible, and when I was on the 18th I had the gallery right at the bottom of the green in the Valley of Sin and all these eyeballs on me as I tried to make that putt.
“Winning at St Andrews in the sunshine; it doesn’t get any better than that.”
The Old Course has drawn the strongest field in the history of the Senior Open, including a staggering number of 591 hopefuls in the Monday Pre-Qualifying.
Joining Langer, Watson and Faldo are the likes of 73-year-old three-time U.S. Open winner Hale Irwin, Masters champions Fred Couples, Larry Mize, Ian Woosnam and Jose Maria Olazabal, recent Senior PLAYERS champion Vijay Singh, Open winners Sandy Lyle, Mark Calcavecchia, John Daly, Tom Lehman and Todd Hamilton, and senior tour standouts Colin Montgomerie, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Jerry Kelly, Steve Stricker and Paul Broadhurst.
This is set to be a momentous occasion in the shadows of this famous old town, and the golfer who prevails on the Old Course will have overcome a spectacular field and etched his name in history as the winner of a major championship at St Andrews. What an opportunity.
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