Tony Jacklin will be one of the star attractions when the Bovis Lend Lease European Senior Masters is played over the Duke's course at Woburn G & CC on September 13 to 15.
The former Open and US Open champion returns from a three week break from competitive action and will tee up against a strong field that also includes Neil Coles, Eamonn Darcy, Seiji Ebihara, Bernard Gallacher, Christy O'Connor Jnr and Manuel Pinero.
Jacklin comes to Woburn towards the end of a long season that has seen him reproduce glimpses of the sort of form that made such as star in the 1960s and 1970s. The Englishman started his season with a strong 12th place finish at the Tobago Plantations Seniors Classic but he saved his best form for the lucrative Wales Seniors Open where he finished in a tie for fourth place behind Ebihara.
"I hit the ball great that week and also putted as well as I have done for years," said Jacklin. "That's the secret for me nowadays. When I putt well I tend to score well because I am normally pretty steady from tee to green.
Jacklin will be hoping to secure his maiden European SeniorsTour victory before moving into semi-retirement next season. He has already indicated that he is about to become the Director of Golf at a new course development in America and so will be making considerably less competitive appearances than he has done this season.
"I wouldn't say this is my swan song but I will be cutting back a lot," confirmed the man who won the 1969 Open at Royal Lytham and St Annes and then followed that up with a victory in the 1970 US Open at Hazeltine.
"After this year, I won't have nearly as much time to play because I am going to be the Director of Golf at a new club Jack Nicklaus and I are building in Sarasota. It's called "The Concession" in honour of the way Jack conceded me my putt in the singles at the 1969 Ryder Cup at Birkdale. We start construction later this year and anticipate it being in play in 2004. The dream is that sometime in the future we will get the Ryder Cup there. That's the plan, in any case."
Jacklin's main rivals at Woburn may well turn out to be Ireland's Eamonn Darcy and Spain's Manuel Pinero, both of whom are making just their second appearances on the European Seniors Tour.
Pinero made his debut on the Seniors Tour at last week's GIN Monte Carlo Invitational whereas Darcy appeared for the first time at the Travis Perkins Senior Masters at Woburn a couple of weeks before
Darcy went into the Wentworth event with high hopes of victory but in the end they were dashed by circumstances outwith his control.
The Irishman started brightly with an opening 69 but was then incapacitated by a back problem that saw him drop all the way back into a share of 47th place after rounds of 73 and 79.
"It was a great shame because I had spent a lot of time looking forward to my first Seniors event," said the man who won four times and accumulated almost £2 million in over 30 years on the European Tour. "I felt fine during the first round but I did something while I was doing my exercises that night and it got worse and worse after that.
"To be honest I don't think I would have completed the event if it hadn't been my debut on the Seniors Tour. It was huge disappointment but one that I will be doing all I can to put behind me as son as I can."
The rejuvenated Darcy might well start as the bookmakers favourite at Woburn but he will face a strong challenge from the indomitable Seiji Ebihara who has been in irrepressible form for most of the 2002 season.
The Japanese golfer started the season in style when he captured the AIB Irish Seniors Open at Adare Manor and has since gone on to win the Wales Seniors Open and the De Vere PGA Seniors Open as well.
Ebihara's form in the latter of those events at the De Vere Carden Park was particularly impressive. There he routed the opposition with a record 21 under par aggregate of 267 that saw him finish no less than 10 shots ahead of America's Steve Stull. He dropped two shots while compiling his opening 69 but then went a staggering 57 holes without ever going over par again.
Last year's inaugural Bovis Lend Lease European Senior Masters was won by Australia's Bob Shearer who returns to defend his title.
Twelve months ago Shearer won his first European Seniors Tour title since 1999 when he closed with a five under par 67 to finish one shot ahead of compatriot Noel Ratcliffe and two in front of an international threesome comprising Ebihara, America's Jerry Bruner and New Zealand's Bob Charles.
The Australian started his final round with three birdies and finished it with two more but was still made to fight all the way by Ratcliffe who eagled the 514 yard 18th hole with a curling 25 foot putt but still came up one tantalising shot short.
"I don't think I will ever forget that afternoon," said Shearer. "You always remember you victories but this one was a bit special because it came a couple of years after my previous win.
"There were times when I started to wonder if I would ever win again so when my last putt dropped and Noel came up one shot short I was ecstatic.
"That night I went home to Australia to visit a couple of my course design projects and I think I smiled all the way."
“Our sponsorship of this tournament is the highlight of our year”, said John Spanswick, Chief Executive of Bovis Lend Lease. “We’re a global business and that’s mirrored this year in the international field who are lined up to play at Woburn Golf & Country Club. Competition is something our industry thrives on and I know just how fiercely competitive the European Senior Masters rounds can be, so we expect plenty of excitement and some fine golf over the coming days. Whoever steps up to take the Bovis Lend Lease Trophy will have worked hard to win it.”