Having spent several years in the golfing wilderness, David James is relishing the prospect of making a return to competitive action on the European Senior Tour after winning the Qualifying School Final on a dramatic final day in Portugal.
The Scot, who closed with a round of 68 for a ten under par aggregate total, will be joined on the Senior Tour this season by England’s Simon Brown, Spain’s José Manuel Carriles, American Robert Thompson, South African Hendrik Buhrmann and Canadian Phil Jonas, all of who claimed full cards.
As ever, there were tales of woes of well as triumph at Pestana Golf Resorts, as joint overnight leader Wraith Grant of England came home in 41 strokes to finish outside the all-important top six. But the Englishman could at least console himself with one of the 12 conditional cards handed out to the players finishing in positions seven to 18.
The conditional cards will ensure entry to a limited number of Senior Tour events, but James will have the opportunity to compete in all regular tournaments on the 2013 Schedule. The 50 year old, who in 1985 reached the semi-final of the Amateur Championship and the final of the Scottish Amateur Championship, will employ a coach for the first time in readiness for his debut campaign on the Senior Tour.
After turning professional in the late 1980s James made more than 60 appearances on The European Tour, with his best result coming in the 1991 Scandinavian Masters, where he finished in a tie for sixth place behind the winner Colin Montgomerie and runner-up Seve Ballesteros.
Having yo-yoed between The European and Challenge Tours for several seasons James effectively retired from professional competition, and subsequently tried his hand at teaching, working in a driving range and even golf course design.
But the competitive fires returned when he got involved with the Senior Golf Circuit, with his five victories persuading him to enter the Senior Tour Qualifying School. He missed out on qualification in 2012 but returned this year, and after finishing in a tie for third place at last week’s First Stage, made no mistake second time around to breathe new life into a professional career which he had feared was over.
He said: “It’s very difficult just to qualify for the Senior Tour, so to win the Final was way above and beyond my expectations. My aim was get to 12 under if I could, and although I didn’t quite manage it I could still enjoy the last few holes in the knowledge that as long as I didn’t make any mistakes, the card would be safe.
“I’m really excited about getting out on the Senior Tour, hence why I put so much effort into trying to qualify. I don’t really know what to expect, so it will be a completely new experience for me and one I’m really looking forward to.
“It’s going to be a tough introduction for me, and I’m going to have to put in a lot of hard work on the practice range in the coming weeks and months to get my game up to the required standard. I need to work on my consistency, especially off the tee, but if I can improve my driving hopefully I can have some decent results and enjoy myself.”
Joint overnight leader Brown signed off with a round of 70 to take second place on eight under par, ahead of Carriles on seven under, Thompson on six under, and Buhrmann and Jonas on three under par.
Brown said: “That’s mission accomplished! Obviously I would’ve liked to have won and I tried to put a bit of pressure on David, but I had a bit of a hiccup in the middle of the round and that put paid to my chances. After that I was just concentrating on not throwing it away, and I holed some really good four and five footers for par coming in, which were crucial for my momentum and my nerves. Then when I made a couple of birdies at the end, I could finally relax for the first time all week!”
Carriles and Buhrmann both birdied two of their last three holes to ensure a full card, whilst Jonas surged through the pack with a joint lowest-of-the-day round of 67.
Of those players securing conditional cards, South African Mark Bright made the biggest move of the day, as his round of 67 moved him from tied 30th overnight into a share of 14th place. Australian Tim Elliott signed off with three successive birdies to finish on two under par, whilst Swedish amateur John Lindberg celebrated his 50th birthday by shooting a round of 68 for a one under par aggregate total.