Mark James of England is well used to seeing his name in the record books of European golf and the former Ryder Cup Captain has a chance to pen another entry for himself this week when he defends his title at the European Senior Masters.
No-one in the short, but successful history of the tournament has won in consecutive years but James will have the chance to do just that following his enthralling play-off victory at Woburn Golf Club 12 months ago.
Then, record crowds flocked to the Duke’s Course and were rewarded with three days of spectacular golf concluding in a truly rousing finale between James and another former Ryder Cup skipper, Scotland’s Sam Torrance.
Having finished the three rounds locked on a nine under par total of 207, the pair returned to the 18th hole and Torrance appeared to snatch the advantage when, having hit his drive into 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 Torrance saw his putt drift fractionally right of the cup, gifting his English rival his maiden title on the European Seniors Tour.
“Last year was my first victory in Europe as a Senior golfer and I remember being overwhelmed by Woburn’s large and knowledgeable galleries,” remarked James, who won a total of 18 times during his long career on The European Tour.
“I am very much looking forward to returning to Woburn and I am intent on successfully defending my title, although I know Sam and many others will have different ideas.”
Torrance lines up in search of another item of silverware to add to his burgeoning collection in his short time as a Senior. The Scot won his eighth title on the European Seniors Tour since 2004 in front of his home crowd last week in the Charles Church Scottish Seniors Open – his 40th title during his distinguished career.
Among those harboring their own hopes of victory are the Spanish duo of Juan Quiros and José Rivero, who between them have collected three titles this season, and a trio of Englishmen - Nick Job, Carl Mason and David J Russell, the latter being one of Ian Woosnam’s two Assistant Captains for The 2006 Ryder Cup in Ireland later this month.
In fact, there will be no escaping the presence of The Ryder Cup over the coming days at Woburn as the field contains ten players who have previously represented Europe or Great Britain & Ireland in the biennial contests against the United States. James and Torrance, who in addition to captaining Europe made a total of 15 playing appearances between them, are joined on the select list by Maurice Bembridge, Gordon J Brand, Neil Coles, Eamonn Darcy, Antonio Garrido, Manuel Piñero, Eddie Polland and Rivero.
Other leading contenders for the lion’s share of the £225,000 prize fund include Zimbabwean Tony Johnstone, back playing golf after a remarkable recovery from multiple sclerosis, and Hardys Rookie of the Year for 2005, England’s Kevin Spurgeon, who hit the headlines last year by finishing third and also enjoying the rare feat of holing in one.
The European Senior Masters is one of the highlights on the European Seniors Tour and benefits from the considerable support of the Duke of Bedford, who amongst other things provides a £10,000 bonus to the winner, AXA UK and Woburn Golf Club.
The previous five editions of the tournament have produced play of the highest quality and the emergence of worthy champions in Australian Bob Shearer (2001), Jamaica’s Delroy Cambridge (2002), Paul Leonard of Northern Ireland (2003), Argentine Luis Carbonetti (2004) and, of course, James, who will go in search of another small slice of golfing history over the coming days.