After his heroics at Royal Birkdale, Greg Norman heads to Royal Troon this week alongside some of the greatest names in golf, all attempting to write another chapter in the history of The Senior Open Championship presented by MasterCard.
The 137th Open Championship was simply spellbinding – with Norman playing one of the starring roles before finishing joint third – and now attention turns to the Senior version as Scotland’s west coast provides the links backdrop for the strongest field assembled in the Championship’s 22 year history.
Major Champions Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle and Ian Woosnam will make their Senior Open Championship debuts this week, the trio among 20 Major winners in the field, which collectively has 32 regular Major victories as well as 27 Senior Major wins, with five players having both on their CV.
Starting as two of the favourites, however, will be Norman and defending champion Tom Watson – chasing a record fourth Senior Open Championship title on a course where he claimed the fourth of his five Open Championship titles in 1982, clawing back Nick Price’s three shot lead with six holes to play in a thrilling finale.
He will now try to create a unique piece of history by winning The Senior Open Championship on a third course where he also lifted The Open Championship, following his previous double victories at Turnberry and Muirfield.
Norman goes into the week searching for his maiden Senior Major and cannot come into the event in better form. The Great White Shark finished third behind Tom Watson at Royal Aberdeen in 2005 on his only appearance in The Senior Open Championship so far and showed last week he has lost none of his competitive fire.
Royal Birkdale was initially merely the warm up for Norman’s assault on The Senior Open Championship but it turned out to be an incredible week as he delighted the world of sport in his bid to win golf’s greatest prize at the age of 53.
After the extreme weather conditions in Lancashire, the Australian is hoping for some respite from the elements on the Ayrshire coast. Royal Troon, of course, was where he narrowly lost in a three way play-off in 1989 with winner Mark Calcavecchia and countryman Wayne Grady, after starting with six consecutive birdies en route to a 64 to take the Championship into extra holes.
Europe’s search for a first winner since Christy O’Connor at the turn of the Millennium will look towards Welshman Woosnam, winner of the 1991 Masters Tournament, who heads to Scotland as one of the favourites to land his first Senior Major.
The current European Seniors Tour Order of Merit leader has made a seamless transition into Seniors golf so far, winning the Parkridge Polish Seniors Championship in just his third appearance and quickly landing his second title in the Russian Seniors Open.
Having never won The Open Championship itself, Woosnam is eager to be the one standing in the winner’s enclosure on Sunday evening but admits Royal Troon’s notoriously difficult back nine will provide a tough test for him and the rest of the illustrious field.
“You have got to drive the ball well and I’ve been working on getting my driving into shape,” he said. “I may even resort to the trusty old one-iron. It would be fantastic to win the Order of Merit in my first season and winning at Troon would certainly give that a serious boost.”
Langer, winner of the Masters Tournament in 1985 and 1993, will also tee up at Royal Troon as one of those fancied to win his first Senior Championship, given the German’s fine form so far this season.
Lying just behind Woosnam on the Seniors Tour Order of Merit, Langer finished second behind American Jay Haas in the US Senior PGA Championship in May and is also competing at the top end of the US Champions Tour Money List.
Scotsman Lyle, also a Masters Tournament winner in 1988, has yet to show his true form since joining the Seniors Tour but The 1985 Open Champion’s links course experience means he is always likely to be a serious contender at Royal Troon.
South African Gary Player, whose record of three Senior Open Championship titles was equalled by Watson at Muirfield last year, will be another legendary name in the field.
Finally, with local interest provided by Ayrshire’s own Sam Torrance, the stage is set for the most fiercely contested and eagerly anticipated battle in Championship’s history.