Bill Longmuir has arrived at Woburn Golf Club for the European Senior Masters full of confidence after his recent triumph at The Midas English Seniors Open – and hopes lightening can strike twice by securing back to back victories in as many weeks.
A fortnight ago, the 54 year old Scot broke his two year title drought when he won at the St Mellion International Hotel, Golf and Country Club, in Cornwall, to take The Midas English Seniors Open from England’s Carl Mason in their final round tussle by two shots.
“I’ve been enjoying it – it still feels great,” he said with a smile. “I thought I had forgotten how to win, because it had been so long since it happened. To hold off a great player like Carl as I did, was very, very pleasing. I wobbled a little bit on the back nine and was feeling nervous, but to play and putt as well as I did felt great. It really has given me a huge lift for the rest of the season. Hopefully, it won't be long before I win again, and it’d be great to do it at Woburn.”
Having taken one title from the Englishman, Longmuir, who since his victory has spent a nice 10 days relaxing at his home in Essex with his family, could do the same at Woburn Golf Club, for Mason is the defending European Senior Masters champion.
There is added spice too, as the duo are once again paired in the same match, teeing off at 10.10am on Friday in the opening round, in the company of Italy’s Costantino Rocca, who is also in form, having won Wednesday’s pro-am over the Duke’s Course.
“It’s a great three-ball to start the tournament with,” said Mason who, a year ago, made a tearful return to the winner’s enclosure when he birdied two of the last three holes of the Duke’s Course to pip Argentina’s Horacio Carbonetti by two strokes and claim his first win of 2006.
Since then, Mason has won a further four times to take his tally of European Seniors Tour victories to 16. He tops the 2007 Order of Merit, with earnings of €241,539 (£163,495), helped by his two wins so far this season – the Ryder Cup Wales Seniors Open at Conwy and Bad Ragaz PGA Seniors Open in Switzerland.
“My goal for the rest of the season, now it’s nearly finished, is to win the Order of Merit for a third time,” said the 2003 and 2004 John Jacobs Trophy winner, who, should he retain the European Senior Masters at Woburn, would overtake England’s Tommy Horton at the top of the European Seniors Tour Career Money List.
Horton, the most successful player in Seniors Tour history with five Order of Merit victories, has amassed €1,509,454 since the beginning of his Seniors Tour career in 1992. He joked: "I'll retire when Carl overtakes me!"
Mason, winner of €1,472,123 in a five year period that has seen him win two Order of Merit titles, is only €37, 331 behind. He can pass Horton’s total by taking home the European Senior Masters’ first prize of €49,713 – providing Horton finishes outside of the top six come Sunday afternoon after the 54 hole event have been completed.
As well as that feat, Mason is also seeking to emulate fellow countryman Mark James as a double winner at Woburn. James won the British Masters in 1990 at Woburn, and 15 years later claimed the European Senior Masters when he beat his great friend and rival, Scotland’s Sam Torrance, with a birdie on the 18th hole – the first of their sudden-death play-off after the pair had tied on a nine under par 207 total.
James tees off on Friday at 10.20am in the company of England’s Gordon J Brand and Australia’s Stewart Ginn, who is currently third in the Order of Merit and eager to secure his first win on the Seniors Tour after four runners-up finishes in the past 12 months.
It was another Australian, Graham Marsh, who won the first professional event staged at Woburn Golf Club – the 1979 Dunlop British Masters. His winning five under par 283 72 hole total saw him edge out England’s Neil Coles and Japan’s Isao Oaki by a stroke.
The 63 year old was due to compete in 2007 to try and emulate James as a double champion at Woburn Golf Club by adding the European Senior Masters title to his British Masters victory, but business commitments in America forced a disappointed Marsh to withdraw.
However, his fellow countryman, David Merriman, is instead looking to lead the Antipodean charge and maintain his form from St Mellion, where a closing one under par round of 71, that included four birdies, helped secure a third place finish and purse of €15,512 (£10,500).
That was the 2006 European Seniors Tour Qualifying School winner’s best result of 2007, and lifted him to 25th in the Order of Merit with earnings of €54,687 (£37,017).
Merriman said: “I played pretty solid, as I have been for most of the year, and it sets me up for a good finish to the season. I am happy with the way I’ve been playing this year.
“I’ve struggled with my putting a little bit, but I got a new putter from Ping about two months ago, and it’s slowly getting better and better. I feel more comfortable and I’m putting well, so it takes the pressure off your shots in, and your driver, so it helps your game.
“I’m looking forward to Woburn - it's the first time I've played here. I hit the ball straight or with a slight fade off the tee, and you need to keep it on the short grass around here with all the trees.”
Another Australian, Terry Gale, could pass the rare feat of having earned €1m Euros on the European Seniors Tour, should he have a successful week and finish inside the top three. The 61 year old has so far amassed €987,403 in just over a decade competing on the circuit.
Gale, who was fourth in Wednesday’s pro-am, said of his million Euros chase: “I don’t know if I’m going to beat it, or if it’s going to beat me, but I’m looking forward to this week and playing again after a nice week off in northern Italy.”
If they also finish inside the top three, England’s Nick Job, with €984,075 from seven years’ competing on the Tour, and Ireland’s Denis O’Sullivan, who has €985,410 from his nine years on the Tour, could also pass that million Euros milestone.
There is also a £10,000 bonus, donated by the current Duke of Bedford, the 15th, and owner of the Bedford Estate where Woburn Golf Club is situated, available to the winning golfer, in addition to the top prize of £33,750 from the total purse of £225,000.
A strong field is competing at Woburn Golf Club, including Torrance, who is off at 10am alongside England’s David J Russell and Spain’s José Maria Cañizares, while three other former European Senior Masters champions – Jamaica’s Delroy Cambridge, Argentina’s Luis Carbonetti and Northern Ireland’s Peter Leonard – are all seeking a second title.
Cambridge, winner in 2002, said: "I've been here for just over a week and I'm feeling good about my swing and my putting. I've been getting used to the broom handle this season and it's coming along. I just feel like I'm bubbling up close to my best golf. The course is playing a little longer than usual, but it's nice to be back at a course where I've won in the past. I hope I can be in with a chance again."