England's Carl Mason tees up in this week's Merseyside English Seniors Open endeavouring to consolidate his significant lead at the top of the European Seniors Tour Order of Merit. Mason arrives at Hillside with a €48,590 advantage over Scotland's Bill Longmuir and another prominent showing would all but confirm he will end the season as the Seniors Tour's Number One.
The former Scottish Open and Turespana Masters champion has been in sensational form since celebrating his 50th birthday at the end of June. Mason finished tied sixth behind Longmuir on his debut at the Ryder Cup Wales Seniors Open at Royal St David's and then won on just his second time out at The Mobile Cup at Stoke Park in Buckinghamshire.
That was to be the start of a highly successful summer during which he finished second behind America's Tom Watson at the Senior British Open, presented by MaterCard, and in the same spot behind Longmuir at the De Vere PGA Seniors Championship. Last week he captured The Daily Telegraph/Turismo Andaluz European Senior Match Play Championship with a last green victory of Ireland’s Denis O’Sullivan to top the Order of Merit with €280,567.
"It has been a fantastic summer," said Mason. "I'm in a great position and would like nothing better than to go on and win the Order of Merit title. That has got to be the goal during the last few weeks of the season."
Mason has no hesitation about confirming Hillside as one of his favourite venues. He said: "Hillside is a marvellous golf course. It has got to be one of the most under-rated courses in the whole of the British Isles.
"It is one of those courses where you have to use just about every club in the bag. It's a very fair test of golf. You get punished if you hit a bad shot but you also get your reward if you hit it well.
"I have played quite a lot of golf there over the years. The first time I went there was back in the late 1960s or early 1970s when I played the Boys Championship and the Boys Home Internationals there. Since then, I have been back several times, most recently at the end of last year when I lost out to Gordon Brand Snr in an Over-48s event organised by the PGA.
"I have to admit I'm really looking forward to going back for the Merseyside English Seniors Open. It's going to be a great week and I am sure it will attract big crowds because the people love their golf round there."
The only man who can catch Mason at the top of the Order of Merit is Scotland's Bill Longmuir who has also been a revelation since turning 50 earlier this summer. The Scot celebrated his coming of age with a share of eighth place on his debut at the Irvine Whitlock Jersey Seniors Masters and has since gone on to win twice and notched two other top three finishes.
Longmuir's first victory came when he closed with a spectacular 65 to claim the £75,000 first prize at the Ryder Cup Wales Seniors Open at Royal St David's and he won again three tournaments later when he captured the De Vere PGA Seniors Championship at the De Vere Carden Park.
"I never dreamt for a second that I would make a start like this," said the Scot who was a regular on the European Tour in the 1970s and 1980s. "When I came out here I hoped that I would be competitive but I have got to admit that I have exceeded all my expectations. I have played some tremendous golf and it has been great fun too."
Longmuir is also a big fan of the Hillside course. "Hillside is one of Britain's true gems," said the Scot. "It's a fantastic course and it's a real bonus for us to play on a course so good. It's a little unusual in that it's a traditional links with trees on it but it's got a great feel to it. I love it. I played it last year in a PGA Over-48s event and I can't wait to get back."
Mason and Longmuir will start out as favourites on Merseyside but they will not have things all their own way against a strong field. Australia's Terry Gale missed last week's Daily Telegraph/Turismo Andaluz Seniors Match Play Championship but returns to the Tour attempting to win for the fourth time this season.
The Australian started the season in style with consecutive victories in the Royal Westmoreland Barbados Open and the Tobago Plantations Seniors Classic before winning for a third time at last month's Charles Church Scottish Seniors Open at The Roxburghe near Kelso.
"I have had a great season and there is nothing I would rather do than to round it off with another win," said Gale. "That would be a great way to end the year."
Gale is currently third on the Seniors Tour Order of Merit and just behind him is Scotland's John Chillas who won for the first time when he claimed the Travis Perkins Senior Masters at Wentworth about six weeks ago.
Chillas spent most of his life working as a club professional in Scotland but has since developed into one of the Seniors Tour's most consistent performers. He claimed nine top-ten finishes while finishing eighth on last season's Order of Merit and he comes into the Merseyside event attempting to extend a run of four consecutive top-ten finishes in stroke play events stretching back to his win at Wentworth Club.
Neil Coles is another man was has continued to impress this summer despite celebrating his 69th birthday at the end of September.
Coles beat his age by three shots when he posted a 65 during the first round of the Ryder Cup Wales Seniors Open and then went one better at the Travis Perkins Senior Masters at Wentworth Club where he closed with an eight under par 64 that beat his age by no less than four shots
Coles returns to competitive action at the Merseyside English Seniors Open where he will be joined by another Hardys Wines Super Seniors who has warm memories of the tournament venue.
Tommy Horton has won five Seniors Tour Order of Merit titles and a plethora of Seniors Tour titles but long but long before that he also won one of his seven European Tour victories at this week's venue.
"It's great to be going back to Hillside," said the Chairman of the European Seniors Tour Committee. "I won a European Tour event there back in the 1970s and I can remember it like it was yesterday.
"It was the 1972 Piccadily Medal. A medal match play competition. I remember I beat Guy Hunt in the final. The conditions were absolutely horrendous. I don't think I have ever seen rain like it. It turned into a war of attrition.
"I remember that a young Pete Coleman caddied for me that week. He bought a second-hand car with his bonus but if I'm not mistaken it broke down a couple of weeks later and he had to abandon it on the motorway.
"The course couldn't be described as a typical seaside links but it's got some great par-fours on it," he added. "It's going to be interesting to see it again after all these years."