Mark James defeated his rival and friend Sam Torrance in a play-off to clinch his maiden European Seniors Tour title at the Bovis Lend Lease European Senior Masters, watched by huge galleries at a sun-drenched Woburn on Sunday.
The two former Ryder Cup Captains returned to the 18th at the Duke’s Course and Torrance appeared to have the advantage when, having been stuck in the trees to the left of the fairway, he conjured a miraculous low hook shot to within four feet of the pin.
But James holed from seven feet for birdie and Scot Torrance saw his putt drift fractionally right of the cup, gifting his English rival the £33,750 first prize.
On the same green moments earlier, Torrance had sunk a difficult breaking putt for birdie to force a play-off, with the pair locked on a nine under par total of 207 after three rounds.
“Playing against Sam almost took the pressure off because I don’t really mind if he beats me,” admitted James after capping a successful two weeks which also saw him finish fourth in the previous week’s JELD-WEN Tradition in America, the final Major of the season for Senior golfers.
“He hit an incredible shot in the play-off because he was a long way left. He had to hit it low and hook it quite a lot and get the right distance and strike. I have no idea how he did it - I would be totally incapable of playing that shot.
“But I saw it finish and I knew it had left him the putt in regulation that I had and it’s a horrible putt, it just seems to slide the other way. I tried to keep my shot a little short so I had an easier putt,” added James after the sixth play-off win of his long career.
England’s Kevin Spurgeon, the overnight leader by three shots, finished alone in third place on eight under par after a round of 73. James, who was six off the pace at the start of play, carded a stylish round of six under 66 while Torrance had a 67.
He may hit the ball slightly shorter than he did in his heyday when he won 18 titles on The European Tour and played in seven Ryder Cups, but ‘Jessie’ showed he had lost none of his skills or competitive nature from the outset by playing the first 11 holes in seven under par.
At that stage James was on ten under, two clear of Spurgeon and four ahead of Torrance.
The packed galleries saw James drop a shot at the par four 16th and run a short birdie putt around the cup at the last to let Torrance in with a chance of forcing a play-off. The Scot, who had rallied with three birdies after the turn, needed another at the last and met the challenge by sinking a difficult, left to right putt.
Spurgeon, coming up behind, could only manage par so left the two former Ryder Cup stalwarts in a sudden-death play-off down 18, which James won at the first attempt.
Twice a winner on the US Champions Tour, it was his first win on the European Seniors Tour and may not be his last. “I am going to play a bit more over here next year,” said James. “The European Seniors Tour is getting better and better and it is great to see old friends. And the amount of people who have come out to watch today has been amazing.”
For Spurgeon, he remained happy despite finishing third. “I have learnt a lot from this experience and I am happy finishing third, particularly to players of Sam’s and Mark’s calibre.
“I have enjoyed the whole week, particularly the hole-in-one in the first round, and I will cope better when I am in a similar situation next time.”
Spain’s Emilio Rodriguez came through to finish fourth on 210 after carding a two under par 70, while sharing fifth spot on 212 were Scotland’s Martin Gray and American duo Pete Oakley and Alan Tapie.
Carl Mason, leader of the European Seniors Tour Order of Merit, rallied after his second day 76 to fire a 69 that earned him a share of eighth spot with Italy’s Giuseppe Cali and kept Torrance at bay in the race to be Number One.
England's Maurice Bembridge and Canadian Bill Hardwick both finished on four over par 220 to share first prize in the Super Seniors competition for the lowest scoring player aged 60 and over.
Each received €1,200 from sponsors Hardys, the leading Australian wine brand, while Malcolm Gregson of England collected €350 for third place after finishing on 223.