Thursday, July 22, 2010

Over-50s take centre stage at Carnoustie for next four days

Senior British Open is in the grip of Americans

 - but who's complaining?

British golf gained some kudos when the sport's authorities in the United States finally acknowledged the Senior Open Championship's status as a major, but that has done nothing for the prospects of a home victory at the event, which starts at Carnoustie today.
Since 2003, when it was added to the US Champions Tour schedule, it has been monopolised by American players, the past seven winners coming from the other side of the Atlantic.
Mark McNulty, once of Zimbabwe, now of Ireland, came close to breaking that sequence at Sunningdale last year, but he lost out in a three-way play-off as Loren Roberts continued the US hegemony.
 It is probably fitting, then, that Carnoustie should play host to this year's event, given the critical part the Angus town played in the development of American professional golf. It has been estimated that around 300 Carnoustie golfers emigrated to the United States in the early part of the 20th century to take up posts at American clubs, and nearly half the original membership of the US Professional Golfers Association, set up in 1916, were known to be former residents of the town.
Yet among the golf enthusiasts of Carnoustie – which is to say just about the entire populace – few would mind one bit if Tom Watson, pictured above, lifted the trophy on Sunday evening. Watson talks in a mellow Kansas drawl, but he plays golf with a distinctly Scottish accent.
Watson won Open Championships at Turnberry, Muirfield and Carnoustie, and having already lifted senior titles on the Ayrshire and East Lothian links he now has the chance to complete a set.
And the determination. Watson lit up the 2009 Open at Turnberry, but his light dimmed as he missed the cut at St Andrews last week. He made a characteristically dignified exit from the home of golf, but he is a competitor to the points of his spikes and he is adamant about wanting to do better on the other side of the Tay.
"I would have liked to have made the cut," he said firmly. "I never like missing the cut. It still eats me. I play for the competition. I like to compete and beat people. That's what I like to do – it just so happens that I do it with sticks and balls and I hope I can do it again this week."
Seniors golf has never have taken off in Europe as it did in America, but the quality of the field in Carnoustie can be measured by the fact that 13 of the players involved have a total of 22 major titles. That number would have been a round 30, but six-times major winner Sir Nick Faldo was forced to withdraw with a wrist injury, while Mark O'Meara, who won two majors, ruled himself out after the death of his father.
For his first two rounds, Watson will tee off in the company of Bernhard Langer and David Frost. US Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin will play in the same group as reigning champion Roberts



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