Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, the original “Big Three” of golf, who between them have won a remarkable 34 Major titles and 19 Senior Majors, are the star attractions at the 2001 Senior British Open, presented by MasterCard, to be staged at Royal County Down GC this week.
“The Big Three” head a strong field that also includes three other Major winners in the shape of Tony Jacklin, Bob Charles and Dave Stockton. However, the event will start without defending champion, ChristyO’Connor Jnr, who has not recovered from a serious ankle injury sustained when his motorcycle fell on him earlier this year. It will also be without another home favourite, David Jones, who has a broken collar bone and has missed the whole of the 2001 European Seniors Tour season to date.
Nicklaus, who win six Masters, five USPGAs, four US Opens and three Opens, will be making his debut in this championship on a course he has never played before.
“I have never had the opportunity to play in this event and I have always wanted to play Royal County Down,” said the Golden Bear. “Before I finish my career I thought it would be appropriate to combine the opportunity to play both. I am very much looking forward to it.”
Palmer has graced previous championships but not since 1995. “I am really looking forward to playing in the Senior British Open again,” he said. “It’s been six years since I last played at Royal Portrush. What particularly appealed to me this year was that it will be played at Royal County Down, a historic course that I have heard so much about but have never had the chance to play. I have no doubt that it is going to be an outstanding week.
Andy Stubbs, the Managing Director of the European SeniorsTour, is delighted to welcome Nicklaus, Palmer and Player and believes their presence will help to make this year’s Championship one of the best ever staged.
“It is great to see these outstanding champions making this commitment to the Senior British Open and I have no doubt their presence will help elevate the event into a world renowned Seniors Championship,” Stubbssaid. “It will also be interesting to see how they fare because I believe we have been able to assemble what is a very strong field indeed.”
In O’Connor Jnr’s absence, the pre-championship favourite might well be South Africa’s John Bland, a man who has finished second on no less than three occasions over the last four years.
Current European Seniors Tour Number One, Denis Durnian, who won the lucrative Wales Seniors Open last month, will also be a be a fancied starter as will double winner, Seiji Ebihara, winner of the AIB Irish Seniors Open and the Microlease Jersey Seniors Masters, but home hopes will rest with Denis O’Sullivan who has been in incredible form since winning his first European Seniors Tour title at the penultimate event on last season’s Tour.
O’Sullivan, 52, from Cork, secured his maiden victory when he closed with a fine 67 to win the 2000 Dan Technology Seniors Tournament of Champions at The Buckinghamshire and he then duplicated that score seven days later when he also lifted the trophy at the Abu Dhabi Seniors TourChampionship.
The Irishman started the 2001 season slowly but burst into life when he won the Palmerston Trophy over the treacherous new Nick Faldo course at the Palmerston Resort near Berlin. Since them he has also won the STC Scandinavian International meaning that he has won four titles in 11 events coming into the Seniors British Open.
“It has been like a dream come true,” said O’Sullivan who did not turn pro until he was approaching 50 after a successful Amateur career during which he won both the Irish Stroke Play and Irish Match Play titles.
“When I was playing amateur golf I always wondered whether I could compete with the likes of Neil Coles, Tommy Horton and Bernard Gallacher and so I feel very proud to have done as well as I have.
“I am also grateful for the Seniors Tour officials because without them I would be stuck in an office like so many of my contemporaries. This is so much better than that. It’s a fantastic way to earn a living but it’s also incredibly tough because the standard is improving all the time.”
This Senior British Open, presented by MasterCard is owned by the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, the European Seniors Tour and IMG and is staged in association with the Northern Ireland Events Company who have made such a contribution to raising the profile of the championship during the years it has been played, first at Royal Portrush and now at Royal County Down.
The 2001 British Senior Open will receive four days live TV coverage on SKY Sports in the UK and will be seen on ESPN and ABC-TV in the USA and around the world.