2005 champion Tom Watson of the USA will be looking to equal Gary Player’s record of three wins in the Senior British Open Championship as he begins the defence of his title at Turnberry in Ayrshire tomorrow. 144 of the world’s best senior players will line-up on the famous Scottish links course to do battle for a record prize fund of £1 million.
The venue has fond memories for Watson, who secured the second of his five Open Championship titles there in 1977. That championship is fondly remembered by all that witnessed it, and it culminated in the famous ‘Duel in the Sun’ between Watson and his perennial rival, the great Jack Nicklaus. The two men started the final round in a tie for the lead, three shots clear of the rest of the field. After a captivating battle over the final 18 holes in bright sunshine Watson secured the title with a birdie and a final round of 65, one stoke ahead of his fellow American.
Watson was delighted to have made the cut at Hoylake in the Open last week, but is hoping that a return to Turnberry can inspire improvement in his game.
“Even though I made the cut at the Open I was mainly trying to navigate my way round the course,” he admitted.
“My game was not quality from tee to green and I will need to play much better at Turnberry. But I’m hopeful as I’ve played some of my best golf there in the past.”
Watson will have to overcome a glittering field that includes no fewer than 21 other Major championship winners and a host of leading Europeans. The main attractions will be Champions Tour Money List leader Jay Haas, Tom Kite, Hale Irwin, Gary Player, Craig Stadler, Mark James, Sam Torrance and Des Smyth. Ireland’s Smyth will be well-fancied this year, having narrowly lost out on the title last season when Watson defeated him in a playoff.
Several adjustments to the famous course have been made ahead of this week’s tournament, with many new bunkers being added on numerous holes. The changes will be immediately evident on the first hole, where three new fairway bunkers have been added. This makes for a very narrow landing area, and similar changes have been made all over the course. In all, sixteen new traps have been added and one has been filled in – on the 14th.
“The key to all these changes was to provide a test to the best players in the world whilst considering the needs of our members too,” said Courses Manager George Brown.
“We feel that we have achieved those aims and yet have retained the unique character of the Ailsa Course. The course in in terrific shape and I am sure all of the players will have a great week at the Senior Open Championship.”