Bruce Fleisher makes a welcome return to the European Seniors Tour when he tees up against a strong international field in this week's AIB Irish Seniors Open at the glorious Adare Manor Hotel & Golf Resort in County Limerick.
The amiable American won the AIB Irish Seniors title on his first visit to the European Seniors Tour at Tulfarris Golf Club two seasons ago and will start out as one of the favourites to lift the 46,000 euro first prize.
Fleisher created a major slice of history in 2000 when he became the first man to win more than $2 million in a single season on the US Seniors Tour and since then he has gone on to win a total of 14 US Seniors Tour titles and consolidate his position as one of the biggest names in Seniors golf.
The 1968 US Amateur Champion won three times while finishing second behind Allen Doyle on the 2001 US Seniors Tour money list and this season he has maintained that sort of form, notching eight top tens and $663,665 in his first 13 starts.
Fleisher proved to be a formidable competitor when he won at Tulfarris in 2000 but he will have to produce his finest form if he hopes to win a second title on a European Seniors Tour that is now stronger than it has ever been at any stage in its history.
This week the American comes face to face with all 16 of the winners on the 2001 European Seniors Tour and top of that list is defending champion Seiji Ebihara, the Japanese golfer who closed with two birdies to pip New Zealand's Simon Owen at last year's AIB Irish Seniors Open at Powerscourt and then added the Microlease Jersey Seniors Open title two weeks later.
Owen, who went on to win the 2001 PING Rookie of the Year Award after capturing the Tunisian Seniors Open title, is also in this year's field, as are Australians Ian Stanley, the Number One on the 2001 Seniors Tour Order of Merit, David Good, Noel Ratcliffe and Bob Shearer, plus British stars, Neil Coles, Bernard Gallacher, Tommy Horton and John Morgan .
This year's event also features a strong Irish contingent headed by 1999 and 2000 Senior British Open champion Christy O'Connor Jnr, the host professional at Adare Manor, who missed most of last season with a serious ankle injury but who has warmed up for his national Seniors title with seven starts on the US Senior Tour including a tie for 24th at the Royal Caribbean Classic and a tie for 25th at the Audi Seniors Classic.
Among the other starters to watch out for will be England's Peter Townsend and America's Steve Stull who won the opening two events respectively on this year's European Seniors Tour in the Caribbean.
Townsend, the former Walker Cup and Ryder Cup player from St Albans, won his first Seniors Tour title on his 87th start at the Royal Westmoreland Barbados Open and a week later the impressive Stull followed suit on what was just his second start after winning the 2001 Seniors Tour Qualifying School by a record ten shots. He currently heads the Seniors Tour Order of Merit with 33,340 euro, just under 1,000 euro ahead of Townsend.
This week the superb Adare Manor Hotel & Golf Resort course becomes the sixth to be used as the venue for the AIB Irish Seniors Open since the championship was inaugurated in 1997.
England's Tommy Horton won the first championship at St Margaret's GC in 1997 and he was followed into the winner's circle by Joe McDermott at Woodbrook GG in 1998, John Morgan at Mount Juliet GC in 1999, Fleisher at Tulfarris GC in 2000 and Ebihara at Powerscourt GC 12 months ago.
The Adare Manor course was designed by Robert Trent Jones Snr and opened for play in 1995. It is a parkland course that is built on undulating land close to the River Maigue and is already rated as one of the finest inland courses in the whole of Ireland.
The signature hole is the 370 yard par four 15th hole where both the tee and the green are perched on the banks of the Maigue. It is the start of a formidable closing stretch that could go a long way towards deciding the outcome of the Championship. The 15th is followed by the picturesque 170 yard par three 16th and the demanding 415 yard par four 17th before concluding with a 501 yard par five with water stretching over 400 yard down its left-hand side.
The course got its first taste of international recognition when it was selected as the venue for the TSN 2000 Ladies World Cup, won by Swedish duo, Carin Koch and Sophie Gustafson.