Friday, 19 March 2010
Ireland's Christy O'Connor Jnr tees up in the Senior British Open, presented by MasterCard, searching for what would be an unprecedented third victory in succession in this prestigious international championship.

The former Ryder Cup golfer won the title in both 1999 and 2000 but then had to miss last year's championship as a result of breaking his ankle in a freak motorbike accident.

It is a determined O'Connor Jnr who goes out at 8.50 a.m. in the first round but, if he is to win the £75,000 first prize, he will have to overcome a strong field that headed is by defending champion, Australia's Ian Stanley, and also includes five-time Open champion, Tom Watson, former Open and US Open champion, Tony Jacklin and Scotland's Bernard Gallacher, who won his first Seniors Tour title at the recent Mobile Cup at the Stoke Park Club in Buckinghamshire.

O'Connor Jnr has made two previous appearances on this year's European Seniors Tour, finishing tied for third at the AIB Irish Seniors Open and in a share of second at the subsequent Wales Seniors Open. This week, he hopes to go one better on a course where he finished two shots ahead of South Africa's John Bland two years ago.

"I was hugely disappointed to miss out on last year's tournament but there was nothing I could do at the time," said O'Connor Jnr.

"The only way I can make up for it is to play well this week. That's what plan to do."

Large crowds are expected at this week's championship and many of them will be clamouring to watch America's Tom Watson, who is making his first appearance in this Championship after turning 50 a couple of years ago.

Watson, the five time Open champion, arrives at Co Down still smarting from a disappointing 149th place finish at last week's Open championship at Muirfield.

The American went into the third Major of the year in good heart after finishing second behind Don Pooley at the recent US Senior Open but missed the cut by no less than ten shots after encountering difficulties on Muirfield's undulating greens.

"My form has been pretty good, or at least it was until last week," said the 53 year old from Kansas. "At Muirfield, I made too many mistakes and I didn't putt all that well, either. It was disappointing to shoot rounds of 77 and 78 because I was looking forward to playing so much.”

Watson is acutely aware that he is no longer as good a putter as he once was, although he seems unwilling to switch to the broomhandle putter used by large number of his peers.

"My putting seems to have left me but I'm still working hard on getting it back," he said. "I used to be a very, very good putter but, somewhere along the line, it seems to have deserted me.

"I have tried the long putter," he added. "It's great for the short ones but no use when it comes to distance control."

Another man who has encountered more than his fair shares of putting problems is England's Tony Jacklin, who won the Open in 1969 and the US Open in 1970, but is still searching for a maiden European Seniors Tour win to add to the two titles he won on the US Senior Tour in 1994 and 1995.

Jacklin switched to a broomhandle putter at the start of this season and, as a direct result, is currently performing as well as he has done for quite some time.

To date, this lorry driver's son from Scunthorpe has played in six events on this year's Seniors Tour, his best finish coming when he won 38,746 euro (£25,000) for finishing in a tie for fourth place behind Japan's Seiji Ebihara at the lucrative Wales Seniors Open at Royal St David's.

"I've been pleased with the way I have been hitting the ball for most of the season and in Wales I putted pretty well, too," he said.

"Nowadays, that's the key for me. If I putt well, I can score well. If not, it all becomes a bit of a chore."

"I would love to win," he added. "That's the ambition, but there's other things to contend with. It is a matter of patience. I've just got to keep plugging away, and playing well. I'd love to win before the end of the season but I will be running out of opportunities if I do not do it soon."

The man to beat might well be defending champion, Ian Stanley, who, like Watson, missed the cut at the Open, but who out-scored the American by no fewer than seven shots after rounds of 76 and 72.

Stanley was in wonderful form 12 months ago, closing with a two under par 69 and then defeating New Zealand's Bob Charles on the first hole of a sudden death play off.

The Australian believes he is close to returning to that sort of form after a slow start to the 2002 season.

"It's great to be back," said the Australian. "Since winning last year, I have had a great time, probably the best time of my career. Unfortunately, however, I have probably been guilty of doing too much and that is why this season I haven't played quite as well as I would have liked.

"Winning the Senior British Open title, and heading the Order of Merit, opens a lot of doors. I got into the Warburg Cup, I got into the Open and the Volvo PGA. I have been backwards and forwards across the Atlantic to compete in the Senior US Open and the US PGA Seniors Championship which has been great, but also very tiring.

"Last month, when I got to Jersey, I was so tired I didn't know where I was. But, now, things are much better. Wales was the turning point. I played well there. I purposely booked a hotel miles from anyone so I could sleep eight hours a night and that seemed to do the trick.

"Now, I feel as if the season is just starting for me," he added. "We have this week, which is probably our biggest week of the season, and then next week I am defending my other title at the De Vere PGA Seniors at Carden Park. I'm looking forward to them both."

Stanley tees up alongside all seven men who have won to date on this season's European Tour. That list is headed by Japan's Seiji Ebihara, winner of both the AIB Irish Seniors Open and the Wales Seniors Open, and also includes Peter Townsend (Royal Westmoreland Barbados Open), Steve Stull (Tobago Plantations Seniors Classic), Gary Wintz (Flanders Nippon Presents Legends in Golf), Delroy Cambridge (Microlease Jersey Seniors Masters), Neil Coles (Lawrence Batley Seniors Open) and Bernard Gallacher (the Mobile Cup)

Gallacher, Jacklin's successor as Ryder Cup captain, comes into the Senior British Open, presented by MasterCard, in a positive frame of mind after recording a five under par 66 in the final round of the Mobile Cup. It was a victory that lifted him to sixth on the Order of Merit, behind leader Ebihara, and brought to an end an agonising three year wait for his first Seniors Tour title.

"I felt that a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders when the final putt went in at Stoke Park," said the Scot.

"I had to wait a long time for that win. Deep down, I suppose, I expected to win fairly soon after I turned 50, so I started to worry when it didn't happen.

"The longer it went on, the worse it got. Recently, there were times when I started to wonder if I would ever win but, now that it has happened, I can relax a bit and get on with things. The monkey is off my back."

One former champion forced to withdraw at the last minute was South Africa's Gary Player, the winner in 1988, 1990 and 1997.

Player withdrew from last week's Open suffering from a rib injury and the problem has not recovered in time to allow him to compete in Northern Ireland, either.

"I ignored the early signs that something was wrong," said Player, the winner of over 100 tournaments around the world, including nine majors and nine Senior majors.

"Obviously, I aggravated what I thought was only a strain and would go away through exercise and practice. It's very disappointing but all I could do is pull out."

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Pos Player nameNatHolePar
2DURNIAN, DenisENG1814
3MOSEY, IanENG1818
4SUGAI, NoboruJPN18-3
5IRWIN, John CAN18-1
6O'CONNOR JNR, ChristyIRL182
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