The strongest European Senior Tour challenge to date, including four former European Ryder Cup Captains, will cross the Atlantic for this week’s US Senior PGA Championship – the season’s first Senior Major Championship.
In-form Mark James – the current leader of the European Senior Tour Order of Merit following his win in the Son Gual Mallorca Senior Open two weeks ago – will attempt to capture his second Senior Major Championship, following the Ford Senior Players Championship in 2004, while Bernhard Langer, Sam Torrance and Ian Woosnam will head to Canterbury Golf Club, in Beachwood, Ohio, hoping to win their first.
They will be joined by double Major Champion Sandy Lyle and Eduardo Romero, the reigning US Senior Open Champion, as well as the top 18 players from the 2008 Senior Tour Order of Merit and the two leading players, not otherwise exempt, from the top 20 on the 2009 Senior Tour Order of Merit.
The number of places allotted to Senior Tour members has more than doubled this year under the PGA of America’s revised criteria for 2009, meaning a record European Senior Tour contingent of 34 will head to Ohio to take on some of golf’s most iconic names including Greg Norman and Tom Watson.
German Langer will start among the favourites having finished runner up by one stroke to American Jay Haas last year having led going into the final round at Oak Hill Country Club.
The winner of two Green Jackets, who also came fourth in The Senior Open Championship presented by MasterCard last year, has been in fine form in America, topping the US Champions Tour’s Money List in 2008 and winning the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf with Tom Lehman last month.
Englishman James, the 1999 Ryder Cup Captain, not only has a Senior Major Championship to his name but he is also the man in form having defeated Irishman Eamonn Darcy in a play-off in Mallorca two weeks ago.
Scotland’s Torrance has also been at the top of his game this year, finishing tied sixth in the season opening Aberdeen Brunei Senior Masters presented by The Stapleford Forum before winning his 11th Senior Tour title in the DGM Barbados Open.
Woosnam, the 1991 Masters Champion, has made winning a Senior Major Championship his priority for this season after capturing the John Jacobs Trophy – presented to the leading Senior Tour player – in his rookie Senior Tour campaign in 2008.
“I’ve done the Order of Merit so I want to get on now and win a Senior Major – that’s the next step for me,” said the Welshman. “I’ve not played too well since the end of last year but Mallorca was probably the best I’ve played for a while.”
Lyle will be buoyed by his recent display at the Masters Tournament, where he rolled back the years to finish tied 20th while Romero has a fine pedigree in Senior Majors having finished runner up in the Senior Open Championship in 2006 before winning the JELD-WEN Tradition. He also finished second in the US Senior PGA Championship in 2007
Also included in the field is Gordon J Brand, who sealed his place by winning The De Vere Collection PGA Seniors Championship in 2008 and finishing second in the Order of Merit, and Italian former Ryder Cup player Costantino Rocca.
Roger Chapman makes his debut in Senior Major Championship golf having finished third on his first Senior Tour appearance in Mallorca. The 50 year old Englishman’s next Major appearance will, of course, be a lot closer to his Ascot home when he competes in The Senior Open Championship presented by MasterCard at Sunningdale Golf Club from July 23-26.
From the American contingent Lehman will also appear in his first Senior Major Championship while Haas is also likely to be among the frontrunners as he attempts to become the first player since Hale Irwin (1996, 1997, 1998) to successfully defend the title.
Watson, the 2001 champion and three-time Senior Open Champion, will attempt to add another Senior Major Championship to his already glittering CV which includes 13 Major titles altogether.
Two-time Open Champion Norman, who is still chasing his first Senior Major Championship, will look to improve on his tie for sixth place last year – a performance that set the tone for the Australian’s stunning Major form in 2009.
The Great White Shark went on to produce one of golf’s most endearing performances in The Open Championship at Royal Birkdale where he led going into the back nine of the final round at the age of 54 before finishing tied third behind Padraig Harrington.
A week later Norman finished tied fifth in The Senior Open Championship presented by MasterCard and he will surely also be one to watch at Canterbury Golf Club.