The battle between Fred Couples and Bernhard Langer on the final day of last year’s Senior Open Championship Presented by Rolex was an engaging contrast of styles, and the pair are both hoping to be in contention once again this week at Royal Birkdale.
It was Couples who prevailed 12 months ago, sinking a 25ft birdie putt on the last hole at Turnberry to seal victory on his debut in The Senior Open Championship.
The American is now hoping to become the first player since Christy O’Connor Jnr in 2000 to successfully defend the title, as he returns to Royal Birkdale where he recorded his joint best finish in The Open Championship, tied third behind Ian Baker-Finch in 1991.
“It's nice to be back at Royal Birkdale,” he said. “It is one of my favourite courses. It's just unique.
“I played yesterday in the Rolex Pro‑Am and I thought it was a pretty good test.
“For me personally, this is just a great challenge of playing a Senior Open on a course that has hosted regular Open Championships.”
Last week Couples made his return to The Open Championship for the first time since 2006, finishing a respectable tied 32nd in tough conditions at Muirfield. That was the leading score among the over 50s who made the cut in The 142nd Open Championship, and Couples hopes that stands him in good stead in his defence this week.
“I shot nine over par at Muirfield, but I honestly think if The Senior Open was last week, nine over would have won,” he said. “I beat Mark O'Meara, Tom Lehman and some other players here this week but I think me finishing 32nd, I would have won the Senior Open at nine over.
“So when you come here, I'm looking at this course and it's softened up, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Meanwhile, 2004 European Ryder Cup Captain Langer is looking to avenge last year’s disappointment and land his second Senior Open title after victory at Carnoustie in 2010.
“It hurt at the time last year because I was playing very good golf the whole week, and then it just kind of unravelled on the last few holes with some bad shots, bad breaks,” he said. “So it hurt at the time but then at the same time, that confirms that I have the game to be up there and I've just got to close the deal and finish it off.
“So partially it's encouraging and in another way, it was disappointing.”
Both Langer and Couples will have a new rival in this year’s Championship in Colin Montgomerie, and after playing with him in the US Senior Open two weeks ago, Langer is fully aware of the threat the eight-time European Tour Order of Merit winner will pose this week.
“He's still striking the ball very well,” he said. “He's driving it well and hits a lot of good shots. Obviously there's an odd lapse, like we all do and we all have. That's golf, and old age seems to bring more out of that in us. But he still has the game.
“I was paired with him in both Champions Tour tournaments he has played for the first two rounds and I saw quite a bit of him. He's going to win some tournaments out here and he's going to be in contention.”