Ian Woosnam tees off in the Ryder Cup Wales Seniors Open title at Royal Porthcawl Golf Club this week eager to add a Senior Tour victory in his home country to the two he enjoyed during his trophy-laden decades on The European Tour.
The 51 year old Welshman, who included the 1983 British Masters and the 1990 Epson Grand Prix of Europe at St Pierre in his 29 European Tour International Schedule titles, showed he still has the competitive hunger with victory in the Irish Seniors Open title a fortnight ago and he hopes to find the same sort of inspiration which carried him to victory on the fabulous links of Ballybunion in Ireland.
Royal Porthcawl is the third successive world-class links to get the Senior Tour players salivating, following Ballybunion and last week’s Jersey Seniors Classic at La Moye, and the Welsh venue will provide another wonderful test for Woosnam, defending champion Peter Mitchell of England and a host of the Tour’s leading lights chasing a first prize of £75,000 from a prize fund of £500,000.
Woosnam, who finished runner-up to Mitchell at Conwy (Caernarvonshire) Golf Club 12 months ago, admits that he has difficulty visualising links courses until he returns to a familiar old venue – and then all becomes crystal clear.
“It’s the same at Turnberry, Troon, Lytham or wherever,” said the 1991 Masters Tournament Champion. “I don’t have a clear picture until I stand on the tee and suddenly everything clicks into place and I know where I am going again.
“To be honest, I haven’t played Porthcawl for a while and I am really looking forward to getting back there and re-acquainting myself with the layout. Naturally, I remember it being a tremendous course and it will be a great test for all of us on the Senior Tour.
“My last visit there was for an exhibition match a number of years ago and, if my memory serves correctly, I played with Brian Huggett and Ian Botham. One thing I do know is that I shot 61 with a five at the last. You don’t forget that sort of score! I would happily repeat that this week.”
Mitchell, meanwhile, aims to recapture the form that brought him three titles in his rookie European Senior Tour season in 2008, having resisted Woosnam’s challenge in Wales last year to win his maiden Senior Tour title in only his second event.
That triumph gave the 51 year old the biggest pay cheque of his career and proved to be the foundation on which he built a fine rookie campaign, with further victories in the Scottish Seniors Open and the Lake Garda Italian Seniors Open helping him to third place in the Order of Merit.
Mitchell has made a slower start to the 2009 season, finishing 12th in both Mallorca and Ireland and missing the cut in the US Senior PGA Championship, but he is looking forward to returning to Royal Porthcawl where he has fond memories of playing in the Welsh Golf Classic on The European Tour in 1980.
“It will be great to return to Wales as defending champion,” he said. “I’ve not played Royal Porthcawl for a long time. The last time was when we played it as a European Tour event a long time ago but I remember it being a very good golf course and a very pretty little town.
“Last year was great. A lot of people came out to support us, I think there must have been about 5,000 people at one point, so to win was lovely. It was my first victory so it was special but I’ve still got my eye on picking up some wins this year.”
Joining Mitchell and Woosnam in the field for the ninth edition of the Ryder Cup Wales Seniors Open will be a parade of past champions, namely Denis Durnian - the inaurugal winner in 2001 - Seiji Ebihara (2002), Bill Longmuir (2003), Carl Mason (2005 and 2007) and José Rivero (2006).
Mason is aiming not only to become the first three-time winner but the first to succeed over three different courses in Royal St. David’s, Conwy (Caernarvonshire) and Royal Porthcawl.
Former Ryder Cup players Gordon J Brand, Costantino Rocca and Sam Torrance are also in the field while there is also a return to Royal Porthcawl for Des Smyth and Gordon Brand Jnr, who won the Welsh Golf Classic on The European Tour at the Mid Glamorgan venue in 1981 and 1982 respectively.