Monday, 21 July 2003
The original “Big Three” of golf - Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player - will be reunited at the Westin Turnberry Resort, Ayrshire, Scotland, this week as the Senior British Open, presented by MasterCard, assumes Major Championship status for the first time.

The "Big Three" will be joined by a group of seven other former Major Champions, Bob Charles, Hale Irwin, Andy North, Tom Kite, Craig Stadler, Tom Watson and Fuzzy Zoeller. Between them, they have won 51 Major Championship titles.

The field also includes defending champion, Noboru Sugai from Japan, his compatriot Seiji Ebihara, and a host of leading European golfers, including Neil Coles, Eamonn Darcy, Baldovino Dassu, Denis Durnian, Bernard Gallacher, Tommy Horton, Carl Mason, John Morgan, Christy O'Connor Jnr, Manuel Pinero and Des Smyth.

Eight former Senior British Open champions will be included in a field of immense quality - Coles, Charles, John Fourie, O'Connor Jnr, Player, Ian Stanley, Sugai and Bobby Verwey.

This year's Championship marks just the second time that Nicklaus, Palmer and Player have competed alongside each other in the Senior British Open, presented by MasterCard. The only other time was back in 2001 when Nicklaus finished tied third behind Australia's Ian Stanley at The Royal County Down Golf Club, Northern Ireland. Player was tied 15th but Palmer missed the cut.

The Championship will also be special because it will enable Nicklaus and Watson to re-enact the epic "Duel in the Sun" fought out during the 1977 at the Westin Turnberry Resort when Watson defeated Nicklaus by one shot after arguably the finest finale ever seen at an Open Championship.

On that occasion the contest went right to the wire before Watson birdied the last to secure his first of five Open titles. Incredibly, the next nearest challenger, Hubert Green, was a distant 11 shots behind.

Watson comes into this year's Championship in fine form, having finished in a share of second place with Tom Kite and Jim Thorpe at the recent US Senior Players Championship at the TPC on Michigan.

On that occasion the winner was former Masters champion, Craig Stadler, who won his first Champions Tour title in what was just his fourth competitive appearance since turning 50 last month. At the same time, on this side of the Atlantic, another rookie, England's Carl Mason won The Mobile Cup at Stoke Park on what was just his second start as a Senior. He was the second successive rookie to win on the European Seniors Tour, following in the footsteps of Bill Longmuir who captured the Ryder Cup Wales Seniors Open at Royal St David's, Harlech.

Record prize money of £1,000,000 - double the previous largest prize fund in the history of the European Seniors Tour - has been confirmed for this year's Championship, sanctioned jointly by The European Tour and the US Champions Tour, in partnership with the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews and IMG, the world's largest sports marketing company.

This year's Champion will collect a record first prize of £157,800, which represents a near 100 per cent increase on the £79,000 Sugai received for winning last year's Championship at Royal County Down. The winner's cheque is £10,800 more than the total prize fund for the inaugural Senior British Open, presented by MasterCard, held at the Westin Turnberry Resort in 1987.

On that occasion, Coles lifted the coveted trophy, finishing a single shot ahead of Charles. Subsequently, the Championship was staged at the Westin Turnberry Resort for the next three years as well, Player winning in 1988 and 1990 and Charles emerging as champion in 1989.

Ken Schofield, Executive Director of The European Tour, said: "The Championship has gone from strength to strength since 1987 when our own Chairman, Neil Coles, claimed the title and has now been deservedly recognised as a Major Championship this year.

"It is also entirely appropriate that this prestigious Championship returns to the Ayrshire venue where it originated, with a first prize significantly greater than the entire prize fund 16 years ago. The magnificent Ailsa course has proved itself to be one of the best venues in world golf and will unquestionably identify a great Champion."

"As a long-time global sponsor of golf, we're thrilled to be part of this very special and historic Senior British Open Championship,"said Barry Hyde, vice president, Global Sponsorships & Event Marketing, MasterCard. "The Senior British Open at Turnberry promises to add to the priceless history of the Championship."

Stewart Selbie, General Manager of the Westin Turnberry Resort, said: "The Westin Turnberry Resort is delighted to welcome The Seniors British Open Championship back to the Ailsa course. Turnberry will provide a great course and venue to compliment the Championship's elevation to Major status."

There are a total of just over 100 exempt players in this year's 144-man field. In addition, 256 other players will tee up in two Qualifying tournaments, held over Barassie Links and the Kintyre Course at the Westin Turnberry Resort on July 22.

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