Glenn Ralph (Getty Images)
A year after clinching his maiden European Senior Tour victory, England’s Glenn Ralph returns to Fairmont St. Andrews bidding to become the first man in the 18 year history of the Cleveland Golf/Srixon Scottish Senior Open to successfully defend his title.
Twelve months ago Ralph, who had only recently returned from a 14 month absence from the game after breaking his right ankle in a swimming pool accident, held off the dual challenge of overnight leader Bob Cameron of England and Argentine Luis Carbonetti to prevail by one shot.
By his own admission Ralph’s recent form has been patchy, with his tied third finish at the Handa Irish Senior Open one of only two top ten finishes so far this season, but the 54 year old is hopeful a return to the scene of his greatest triumph will revive his fortunes.
“Winning was something I’d always wanted to do,” he said. “Everyone always said I was a good enough player, but you have to do it. Sam Torrance came up to me after I won and said ‘why has it taken you so long?’
“Then Des Smyth came up to me and said exactly the same thing. They both said they knew I’d win, but didn’t know when. It felt like I was never going to – I just didn’t seem to produce it when it mattered.
“But down the stretch I just proved that I can play well when I needed to.
The conditions were so tough, it was really windy and I held the lead for the last eight holes – but I never relinquished it. That proved I can do it when I get in that position, so let’s do it again!”
Perhaps the man most likely to prevent Ralph from successfully defending his title is the home favourite Sam Torrance, the man who designed the 6,849 yards, par 72 Torrance Course at Fairmont St Andrews in Fife, Scotland.
Torrance, three times a winner of the John Jacobs Trophy, currently sits in 14th place on the Order of Merit, thanks largely a tied runner-up finish at the Berenberg Bank Masters and two other top ten finishes this term.
But a repeat of his performance in 2006, when he edged out fellow Scot Bill Longmuir, would see him close the gap on Germany’s Bernhard Langer at the top of the Order of Merit.
Longmuir himself took the title in 2004, and will be confident of repeating the feat after recently taking his haul of Senior Tour titles to eight with a seven-stroke victory at the Handa Senior Masters presented by the Stapleford Forum, where he collected €71,381 – the second biggest pay cheque of his Senior Tour career.
Other notable Scots in the field include Gordon Brand Jnr, who is in fine form with one win and a further four top ten finishes in his last five Senior Tour appearances, and Andrew Oldcorn, who is enjoying a hugely impressive debut season.
Since turning 50 in March Oldcorn has slipped seamlessly into life on the Senior Tour, with his runner-up finish at the Van Lanschot Senior Open – where he finished one shot behind Englishman George Ryall – one of five top ten finishes to his name.
Another player with his eyes on the £37,500 first prize is Ryall’s compatriot Carl Mason, who would surpass Tommy Horton’s record of 23 Senior Tour titles with victory at Fairmont St Andrews, which recently underwent a renovation.
Former winners Peter Mitchell of England (2008) and England's Denis Durnian (2002) will also take their places in the event, which this year carries an increased prize fund of £250,000.