George Ryall will have to play through the pain barrier this week if he is to successfully defend the Van Lanschot Senior Open title he won 12 months ago.
During the first round of The De Vere Club PGA Seniors Championship a fortnight ago, Ryall suffered a back spasm as a result of the prolapsed disc which has been causing him occasional discomfort for the past decade, and was forced to withdraw from the event.
After undergoing intense physiotherapy and taking painkillers, the Englishman produced a stunning comeback with an opening round of 66 at last week’s Berenberg Bank Masters, but subsequently struggled over the next two days when the pain returned in his lower back.
Ryall readily admits that he would have rested this week had he not secured his maiden Senior Tour victory with a closing round of 66 at the inaugural event last year, but he is hoping that the phrase “beware the wounded golfer” inspires him to a successful title defence at Royal Haagsche G&CC in The Hague, the Netherlands.
He said: “My back’s a bit vulnerable in certain positions, and I had a slightly awkward stance in a bunker on the second hole at Slaley Hall. As soon as I hit the shot I felt my back pop, and it’s been really troubling me ever since. It’s been a problem for a long time now, but you learn to cope with it and try to block out the pain. I haven’t played any golf this week, just had a lot of treatment from my physio back home. So it’ll be a bit of a step into the unknown when I hit my first tee shot, but there was no way I was going miss this week.
“It’s obviously great to be back, because I’ve got some very fond memories of my win here last year. It was so important for me because I didn’t have a category at the time, so my main goal was just to finish in the top five to get into the Re-Rank. That took a little bit of the pressure off me in the final round because I knew I’d pretty much sewn that up, but then to get the victory was the icing on the cake.
“We’ve got slightly different conditions to contend with this time, because last year the course was very dry and very fast-running, so it had quite a linksy feel to it. But this year it looks like they’ve had a fair bit of rain recently because the course looks a lot greener, so it might be playing slightly longer – which isn’t ideal with my back! But hopefully it’ll hold out, and I can have another good week.”
Having dominated for the first two days Andrew Oldcorn ultimately had to settle for second place behind Ryall 12 months ago, and the Scot returns to The Hague bidding to go one better this year.
Thanks chiefly to his nine-shot victory at the De Vere Club PGA Seniors Championship, Oldcorn is currently second on the European Senior Tour Order of Merit, one place above former Ryder Cup-winning Captain Ian Woosnam of Wales, who is going for back-to-back victories after winning in Cologne last week.
Their fellow 2011 Senior Tour champion Peter Fowler of Australia, who occupies fifth spot on the Order of Merit, is also in action at the €250,000 event, which gets underway on Friday and is played for the first two days in a Pro-Am format.