Carl Mason, currently in pole position on the Order of Merit, is gearing up for a hat-trick of European Seniors Tour victories at this week’s Nigel Mansell Sunseeker International Classic.
The former Formula One world champion is hosting his third tournament over his own course at Woodbury Park in Devon, where Mason will be chasing his 12th Seniors Tour title after back-to-back wins at the De Vere Northumberland Seniors Classic at Slaley Hall and last weekend’s Ryder Cup Wales Seniors Open at Royal St David’s.
Also among the field are defending champion Seiji Ebihara and Sky Sports on-course analyst Howard Clark, who is making his second appearance on the Seniors Tour.
Japan’s Ebihara was nicknamed ‘Houdini’ by Mansell after a series of stunning recovery shots saw him claim the 2004 title, while Clark, winner of 11 titles on the European Tour and a six-time Ryder Cup player, has just returned to professional golf after a break of six years.
Other leading names in the field include Bob Charles, the 1963 Open champion who matched his age with a round of 69 during the second round at Royal St David’s, and David J Russell, who last week was announced as an assistant to Captain Ian Woosnam for next year’s Ryder Cup.
However, the man to beat will be the in-form Mason, Order of Merit champion for the previous two seasons and the player who shot a course record eight under par 64 during the 2003 event.
Mansell, who will play in the tournament himself, expects scoring to be higher this time as the course has been lengthened: “I’m very much looking forward to welcoming the professionals back to Woodbury Park. This is the third year we have played the tournament and I’d like to think this one is going to be the best. It certainly should be because everybody at the club has been working hard to get things just right.
“We have extended the course so that it now plays at 7,319 yards from the back tees. The course the seniors play will be about 300 yards longer than in previous years, so it’s going to be even more challenging. It’s also in great condition, so the pros should be very pleased with what they find.
“We are proud of the course and it means a lot for us to welcome the stars of the past. I’ve played enough with them to know that they can still play some fantastic golf, so it should be a treat for all the spectators who come to watch.”
The tournament, which carries a prize fund of €150,000, has added significance as qualifying for the Senior British Open, presented by Aberdeen Asset Management, ends at Woodbury.
There are places available for the leading three players in the top 30 on the Seniors Order of Merit not otherwise exempt and the men currently in the frame are Eamonn Darcy (3rd), Bruce Heuchan (7th) and Emilio Rodriguez (20th).