A record number of 337 qualifiers, including 74 amateurs, will be attempting to earn one of the final 34 remaining spots available for entry into The Senior Open Championship, presented by Aberdeen Asset Management, at Muirfield from July 26-29, when Pre Qualifying takes place at three of east Scotland’s most testing links circuits.
On Monday, Craigielaw Golf Club, Dunbar Golf Club and North Berwick Golf Club will respectively host the many senior golfers seeking a route into the Senior Major Championship, which gets underway on Thursday at the famous East Lothian club.
Highlighting the growth and stature of The European Seniors Tour, and particularly the special lure of The Senior Open Championship, it is the third consecutive year Pre Qualifying numbers have grown.
In 2005, 264 golfers entered Pre Qualifying and last year, 302 players teed it up in their efforts to join those already exempt for the Championship.
Each of the 34 qualifiers this time around will be hoping to emulate Pete Oakley, who, in 2004, made history by becoming the first qualifier in to win The Senior Open title when he claimed a one shot victory at Royal Portrush Golf Club.
The previously unknown American, from Lincoln, Delaware, shocked the golfing world with his play and courage to hold off experienced challengers Tom Kite, Eduardo Romero and Mark James in Northern Ireland.
Oakley started the final round with a one stroke lead and held his nerve to fire a two under par 70 – getting up and down from a greenside bunker on the 18th hole to finish the tournament on four under par 284, one ahead of Kite and Romero, with James a further shot back.
This year, the 72 hole Senior Open Championship has 110 exempt players guaranteed their place at Muirfield – and among them are a host of legends, including 14 former Major Champions, and 21 Senior Major Champions.
Six times Major Champion Nick Faldo makes his European Seniors Tour debut, having turned 50 on July 18, and returns to the course where he won two of his three Open Championships, in 1987 and 1992.
Eight times Major Champion Tom Watson – who won five Open Championships in his prolific career – also won at Muirfield, in 1980, and returns keen to claim his second Senior Open in as many years, after winning at Royal Aberdeen in 2005 when he beat Ireland's Des Smyth at the third extra hole in their play-off.
That was Watson's fourth Senior Major victory, and second in a play-off, having beaten England's Carl Mason at the Westin Turnberry Resort in 2003. By winning at Turnberry, he joined Bob Charles as the only player to win an Open Golf Championship and Senior Open Championship at the same venue.
Wayne Grady, Tony Jacklin and Mark O’Meara are also in the 144 man field alongside the cream of international Seniors golfing talent.
Grady, winner of the 1990 US PGA Championship, celebrates his 50th birthday on the first day of the Championship and has chosen to swap his place in the BBC television commentary box for a place competing.
Jacklin, winner of The Open Championship in 1969 and the US Open Championship the following year, and O’Meara, who captured both the Claret Jug and the Masters Tournament during 1998, will be joined at the renowned links course by former Major winners Bob Charles, Ben Crenshaw, Tom Kite, John Mahaffey, Jerry Pate, Gary Player, Dave Stockton, Scott Simpson and Craig Stadler.
Last year’s Senior Open Championship, presented by Aberdeen Asset Management, was won by former United States Ryder Cup player Loren Roberts, who defeated Eduardo Romero on the first play-off hole at The Westin Turnberry Resort.
The Senior Open Championship began in 1987 and its most prolific winner is Gary Player, who has three victories to his name.