England's Denis Durnian tees up in the Tunisian Seniors Open at Port El Kantaoui GC this week knowing that a win would left him back to the top of the 2001 European Seniors Tour Order of Merit for the first time since Ian Stanley won the Senior British Open, presented by MasterCard, at the end of July.
Durnian goes into the European Seniors Tour's third last tournament of the season trailing Order of Merit leader, Stanley, by 14,203 euro (£8,797). But, in the Australian's absence, he can assume a significant 12,440 euro (£7,863) lead if he wins the 26,643 euro (£16,660) first prize.
The Englishman has developed into one of the European Seniors Tour's most consistent performers since winning the lucrative Wales Seniors Open at Royal St David's back in June. Durnian is joined in the starting line up by five other 2001 winners in Noel Ratcliffe (Beko Seniors Classic and De Vere Hotels Seniors Classic), Denis O'Sullivan (Palmerston Trophy Berlin and STC Scandinavian International), Priscillo Diniz (Royal Westmoreland Barbados Open), David Good (Legends in Golf) and Russell Weir (TEMES Seniors Open).
Diniz, Good and Weir have all been in excellent form over the last few tournaments, as has Jerry Bruner. The American is still searching for his maiden European Seniors Tour title after finishing second for the ninth time in his career at the Dan Technology Seniors Tournament of Champions at Mere G & CC.
Another man to finish impressively at the Manchester venue was Scottish rookie Mike Miller, who closed with a six under par 65 in winds gusting up to 40 miles an hour, giving notice he is set to win for the first time.
Miller and Bruner will both be in Tunisia and will be boosted by the fact that there have been a total of five first time winners on this year's European Seniors Tour. Japan's Seiji Ebihara set the ball rolling when he won the AIB Irish Seniors Open at Powerscourt. He was followed into the winner's circle by Durnian (Wales Seniors Open) and Good (Legends in Golf) and in the last two tournaments the trend has been continued with wins for Weir (TEMES Seniors Open) and Delroy Cambridge (Dan Technology Seniors Tournament of Champions).
The chances are this run could be continued at El Kantaoui because Bruner and Miller will also be joined by England's Ian Mosey, who has featured strongly in two out of his first four appearances on the European Seniors Tour, and New Zealand's Simon Owen, who has notched eight top ten finishes this season and will be keen to record a first victory in his last appearance this year.
However, the dark horse might well turn out to be Scotland's John Chillas, who joined the European Seniors Tour in time to finish tied ninth at the Scottish Seniors Open at The Roxburghe course near Kelso and who owes his appearance in Tunisia to a subsequent tie for sixth place at the TEMES Seniors Open in Greece.
Chillas, the club pro at Stirling GC and the current Scottish PGA champion, travels to Tunisia hoping to earn sufficient prize money to avoid having to go to next month's European Seniors Tour Qualifying School on the Algarve. But he would also love to go one better and emulate the spectacular start made by his great friend and rival, Weir, who turned 50 this summer and who has since won in Greece, thereby guaranteeing his European Seniors Tour card for the next two seasons.
Spain's Antonio Garrido will be back on familiar ground when he returns to the El Kantaoui as it was on this same course that the 57 year old from Madrid defeated fellow Spaniard Manuel Calero in a play-off at the 1982 Tunisian Open to record his fourth European Tour victory. Nineteen years on, Garrido returns to El Kantaoui in search of his first Seniors Tour victory since claiming the Lawrence Batley Seniors title back in 1997.
Tournament golf was last played in Tunisia in 1995 when the European Challenge Tour staged the Tunisian Open. Former English Amateur Champion Ricky Willison claimed the title on that occasion with another Englishman, Jon Robson, winning in 1994. Prior to that El Khantaoui staged the Tunisian Open on The European Tour from 1982-1985.
Sponsored by the Tunisian National Tourist Office (TNTO), the three-day tournament is being viewed as an important step in the country's bid to promote itself as a leading golfing destination.
Slaheddine Maaoui, Tunisia's Minister for Tourism, Leisure and Handicrafts said: "We are delighted to see the return of European Championship golf to Tunisia. The event will provide us with an ideal opportunity to showcase the magnificent El Kantaoui course and to promote the country as a world-class golfing destination."
Andy Stubbs, Managing Director of the European Seniors Tour, said: "We are thrilled to see the return of top level European competition to Tunisia in this, the tenth anniversary season of the European Seniors Tour."