The European Tour makes its first appearance in the U.K. in 1999 with 29th Benson and Hedges International Open at the Oxfordshire this week.
Several leading players have been recharging their batteries following their Masters exertions, but are now ready to make a full-scale assault on the early-summer tournaments. This week’s field includes a clutch of major champions in Jose Maria Olazabal, Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Ian Woosnam, Bernhard Langer, and Sandy Lyle.
Colin Montgomerie, winner of the Volvo Order of Merit for a record six years, makes only his second European start of 1999, while Lee Westwood returns to the European scene after being forced to withdraw from the Compaq Classic of New Orleans last week.
Defending champion Darren Clarke, who also took a break to recover from a nagging back injury is ready to resume at the superb Rees Jones-designed course in the rolling Oxfordshire countryside.
Clarke ended two years without a win last year, capturing the prestigious trophy by three strokes from Spain’s Santiago Luna and by four from Denmark’s Thomas Björn and Massimo Florioli of Italy.
It was a momentous victory for Clarke, who remained an oasis of calm as several players fought for the title, and proved he has the temperament for the big occasion – something he re-emphasised later in the year by landing the Volvo Masters crown.
Clarke admitted: “It was a frustrating period for me because I have improved probably more than my results have shown. There has always been one major piece missing and that’s my attitude.
“That week my attitude was very good. I was patient and let things happen rather than forcing them to happen as in the past.”
Langer, twice a winner of the Benson and Hedges International Open – once at St. Mellion and once at The Oxfordshire – is attempting to become the first player to win the event on three occasions.
Lyle, winner of the 1985 Open and 1988 Masters Tournament, makes his first foray into Europe this season while the quality of the field can be gauged by the fact that 11 of the 12 players who led Europe to victory in the last Ryder Cup will be competing at The Oxfordshire.
The superb course has 18 strategically contoured holes which blend into the surrounding countryside. There are many challenges facing the players, none more so than the water hazard bordering the 17th hole which makes that imposing par five a focal point for many thrills and spills over the week.