The festival of links golf continues this week at Royal Birkdale as the golfing greats assemble on England’s North West Coast for The Senior Open Championship presented by Rolex.
Following hot on the heels of a wonderful fortnight in Scotland at Castle Stuart Golf Links and Muirfield, where Phil Mickelson won both the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open and The Open Championship, it is the turn of the seniors to put their knowledge of links golf to the test for the third Senior Major of the season.
Fred Couples, recently inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, returns as defending champion after a highly credible tied 32nd finish at Muirfield, where he improved with each round by carding 75, 74, 73 and then a level par 71 for a nine over par total.
Couples finished third in The Open at Birkdale in 1991 behind Ian Baker-Finch in what remains his joint best finish, along with St Andrews in 2005, among nine top ten finishes he recorded in golf’s oldest competition without managing to capture a Claret Jug.
It therefore proved to be a moment to savour for Couples when he triumphed on his debut in The Senior Open Championship presented by Rolex 12 months ago, sinking a 25ft birdie putt on the last hole at Turnberry following an absorbing final round battle with 2010 champion Bernhard Langer.
This week also marks the eagerly anticipated Senior Open Championship debut for Colin Montgomerie, who turned 50 last month. Montgomerie was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame alongside Couples in May in recognition of his record eight Order of Merit titles, eight Ryder Cup appearances as a player in addition to triumphant captaincy in 2010 and 31 European Tour titles, and while a Major proved elusive on the regular Tour, the Scot is determined to put that right among the Senior Majors.
Royal Birkdale shares a close affinity with a number of those teeing up this week including Tom Watson, who won The Open there in 1983 in his only Open victory outside Scotland, and Mark O’Meara, who not only won The Open in 1998 having already won the Masters Tournament earlier in the year, but also the Lawrence Batley International in 1987.
Nine Open Championships have been played at Royal Birkdale but this week marks the first occasion the club has hosted the Senior Open Championship presented by Rolex, first played in 1987, with the club becoming the 11th venue to host the Senior Open.
Watson and Gary Player, who this year is celebrating his 60th year as a professional, currently hold the most number of victories with three apiece.