England’s Carl Mason heads to this week’s De Vere PGA Seniors Championship knowing that a successful defence of the trophy he won in 2004 will go a long way to his target of three back-to-back European Seniors Tour Order of Merit titles.
Mason – who topped the money lists in 2003 and 2004 – is the biggest earner so far this year with €208,632, followed by Ireland’s Des Smyth (€170,346) and Noel Ratcliffe of Australia (€124,395).
The 52 year old from Oxfordshire is a prime example of how the European Seniors Tour can give a professional golfer a new lease of life. Twice a winner on The European Tour in a career spanning 24 years, Mason made an immediate impact on Seniors golf by triumphing on his second time out at The 2003 Mobile Cup, before going on to claim a further ten tournament victories.
It is a success story born of experience. “I wish I had this confidence 20 years ago,” admitted Mason. “I think that somehow in my mind I had it that if you ever got in the lead, you have to play fantastic golf, shoot low scores to win. That’s not really the case.
“I’ve learned you just play steady golf, avoid mistakes and just play steady. It’s amazing how well you play doing that. You get your putter going and knock in some putts and, presto, you win. It’s difficult to get that mindset but I finally found it.”
The indefatigable Mason arrived at last year’s Championship fresh from victories at the Tobago Plantation Seniors Classic and the AIB Irish Seniors Open and he completed a third triumph of the season when he closed with a four under par 68 and then defeated Seiji Ebihara of Japan and England’s Jim Rhodes on the second hole of a dramatic sudden-death play-off. That victory was Mason’s seventh success since turning 50 the previous June and he has since claimed four other titles, at the 2004 Daily Telegraph Turismo Andaluz European Seniors Tour Match Play, the 2004 ADT English Seniors Open, the 2005 De Vere Northumberland Seniors Classic and the 2005 Ryder Cup Wales Seniors Open.
He also finished second on his debut at De Vere Carden Park in 2003 but he is by no means the only course specialist in this year’s field. Ebihara has also claimed both a first and a second place over the testing 6,756-yard Jack Nicklaus layout, his victory coming in spectacular fashion back in 2002 when he played his final 57 holes without dropping a single shot.
The Japanese golfer is undoubtedly one of the world’s most aggressive players and on that occasion he spreadeagled the field with a masterly performance that shattered several Seniors Tour records.
Ebihara carded rounds of 69, 67, 65 and 66 to set a new par record of 21 one under 267. That total shaved a shot off the Championship record set by 1960 Open Champion Kel Nagle at Longniddry in 1975 and also set a new mark for the Tour’s biggest margin of victory by finishing ten shots ahead of America’s George Burns and Steve Stull.
Ebihara will be joined in this week’s field by five more past winners - Terry Gale, Tommy Horton, Bill Longmuir, John Morgan and Ian Stanley - plus the likes of South African John Bland, Ireland’s Eamonn Darcy, Sam Torrance of Scotland and Ratcliffe.
The PGA Seniors Championship, which was inaugurated in 1957, is the longest running event on the European Seniors Tour and this is the tenth year that De Vere Hotel Group has been title sponsor.