As one of the intriguing sub-plots to the full battle to claim The Senior Open Championship, presented by Aberdeen Asset Management title, the tussles between former and current champions, particularly when the players in question are still performing to the highest standards, often ensure plenty of thrills during Major Championships.
At Muirfield this week, Eduardo Romero and Tom Watson are two such talents competing for glory, and, as recent Senior Major Champions, both feel ready to deliver once more.
American legend and eight times Major champion Watson, winner of two Senior Opens, in 2003 and 2005, is bidding for a third on the course where he won one of his five Open titles, in 1980, when he held off Lee Trevino over the East Lothian links to capture the old Claret Jug.
Argentine Romero, meanwhile, is the current Champions Tour JELD-WEN Tradition holder, after his debut senior Major win in August 2006 – and his record in the past four senior Majors is certainly impressive, with second, first, second and tied 22nd finishes to his name.
Both players are excited about bidding for The Senior Open Championship, presented by Aberdeen Asset Management, when they tee off on Thursday at 9.20am and 9.30am respectively.
Romero, 53, is in the company of double Masters Tournament winner Ben Crenshaw, and Mark James, while Watson is joined by senior debutant Nick Faldo – who claimed two of his three Opens at Muirfield – and another past Masters and Open Champion, Mark O’Meara.
Watson, 57, said: “I intend to even the score with Nick this week and make it 2-2. I’ve always enjoyed Muirfield, it’s always been a favourite of mine.
“I remember in 1980 when I won here, I was putting probably the best of any one particular time in my career. I just told myself, ‘if I can stay out of the bunkers and the rough, I could win the tournament,’ because my putting was so on. It’s always been the most important club in the bag.
“I can’t compete with the kids anymore because of the distance – the game has passed me by as far the distance is concerned – but the Open Championships are places where I feel like I can compete in the right conditions. And I’m out here because I enjoy the competition.”
Romero is equally upbeat about his prospects, and hopes to put the disappointment of losing his sudden-death play-off to Loren Roberts at The Westin Turnberry Resort last year firmly behind him.
“I’m looking for revenge this week and hopefully, I’ll play good. I have the experience of playing this tournament and I know I have the chance to win,” he said.
“Winning this would be the biggest win of my career – I include my time on the regular tour. The British Open and Senior British Open, it’s a special tournament. When I play the British, I feel different. I love it over here. I’m very happy to come here again and see old friends.”
Both Romero and Watson spoke of the challenges posed by Muirfield – particularly the penal rough, which has been left to grow high – and bunkering system.
Romero said: “I think if you go in the rough, you are dead. Just play sand wedge and lob wedge and put the ball in the fairway and try to make bogey. It’s more severe than Carnoustie because it’s so wet and very thick.”
Watson added: “Consistency is the key here. The main thing is to put the ball on the fairway – the bunkers can be death.”
Having seen Angel Cabrera claim the US Open and Andres Romero come agonisingly close to Open glory, Romero is keen to keep the Argentine flag flying and become another winner. “It’s a fantastic golf course and I feel ready,” said the eight time winner on The European Tour.
Although both players have been suffering with a few aches and pains, when their names are announced on the first tee, another exciting contest for silverware will undoubtedly follow.