After Ernie Els’ coronation as Open Champion, the leading Senior players will attempt to win a Claret Jug of their own next week when The Senior Open Championship Presented by Rolex visits Turnberry for a record seventh time.
The iconic Ailsa Course hosted the first three Senior Opens, from 1987-1989, and Englishman Roger Chapman and American Tom Watson will be hoping that three is the magic number once again on Scotland’s west coast.
Chapman has the chance to become the first European player – and only the second player after South African Gary Player in 1988 – to win the Senior Grand Slam of the Senior Open Championship, US Senior PGA Championship and US Senior Open in the same season.
The 53 year-old, who leads the European Senior Tour Order of Merit, sealed a memorable Michigan double two weeks ago when he overturned Bernhard Langer’s four stroke 54-hole lead with a closing round of 66 to lift the US Senior Open at Indianwood Golf and Country Club.
That came just six weeks after he claimed an emotional maiden Senior Tour title, succeeding Watson as the US Senior PGA Champion at Harbor Shores.
He now has the opportunity to complete the clean sweep on a course where Player also won The Senior Open in 1988, and where Chapman made his Major debut in The Open Championship 35 years ago.
“Winning at Indianwood was good preparation for The Senior Open Championship,” he said. “When you look out over the course from the first fairway you can see the humps and hillocks, which reminded me of the links courses of Scotland. The layout certainly had a Scottish links theme and feel.
“Fortunately, I’m a bit more experienced and I’m full of confidence after my two back-to-back Senior Major victories, so I won’t be feeling quite the same as I did when I played in my first Open Championship at Turnberry. That was back in 1977, the year of Tom Watson’s victory over Jack Nicklaus in the famous ‘Duel in the Sun.’
“As an amateur, I’d qualified for The Open at West Herts Golf Club and then at Western Gailes in Ayrshire. I remember standing on the seventh tee looking out over the Ailsa Course and gazing at the huge crowds and thinking, ‘What on earth am I doing here.’ I felt totally out of my depth.
“It would be a boyhood dream to win another Major on home soil.”
Watson, who made the cut at Royal Lytham & St Annes last week, has a hat-trick of his own in his sights. The 62 year old is targeting a trio of Turnberry titles, having won The Open Championship over the Ailsa Course in 1977, defeating Jack Nicklaus in the famous ‘Duel in the Sun’, and The Senior Open Championship in 2003, when he defeated Carl Mason in a play-off.
Of course, Watson came agonisingly close to winning The Open Championship again at Turnberry in 2009, when he lead going into the final hole, but a bogey meant he had to contest a play-off with Stewart Cink, which his younger compatriot went on to win.
Watson, who finished tied third 12 months ago at Walton Heath Golf Club, can also make history by becoming the first player to win four Senior Open titles, having also claimed the title in 2005 at Royal Aberdeen and at Muirfield in 2007.
Returning to Turnberry is Australian Greg Norman, who won his first Major Championship over the Ailsa Course in The 1986 Open Championship, finishing five shots clear of English Ryder Cup player Gordon J Brand.
Former World Number One Norman has missed the past two Senior Opens due to a shoulder injury, including last year’s 25th edition at Walton Heath Golf Club when American Russ Cochran captured the title, finishing two shots clear of compatriot Mark Calcavecchia.
It was a victory that Cochran admits changed his life, but his defence will rest on his recovery from a back injury that forced him to retire from the US Senior Open two weeks ago and withdraw prior to the start of The Open Championship last week.
Calcavecchia, winner of the Claret Jug in 1989, heads to Turnberry on the back of an impressive top ten finish at last week’s Open Championship.
Meanwhile German Langer, the last man to win the Senior Open Championship on Scottish soil at Carnoustie in 2010, is also in good form, having finished joint runner-up in the US Senior Open a fortnight ago.
Another former World Number One and Masters Champion, Fred Couples, makes his debut in The Senior Open Championship Presented by Rolex, while the home hopes will be led by former Open and Masters Champion Sandy Lyle.