Friday, July 10, 2009

Player turns back Time

Gary Player, the most decorated player in the field for The Senior Open Championship presented by MasterCard, will attempt to roll back the years when he returns to Sunningdale Golf Club, 53 years after capturing his maiden European Tour victory at the Berkshire venue. The South African won the Dunlop Tournament over 90 holes of the Old and New Course in 1956 at the very start of his glittering career and now, in the twilight of his playing days, he will hope to continue his remarkable relationship with The Senior Open Championship when he returns to the Old Course from July 23-26. Player has only missed one of the previous 22 Senior Open Championships, at Royal County Down Golf Club in 2002, and the ‘Black Knight’ remains the joint most successful player in the history of the event with Tom Watson. Both Player and Watson have won The Senior Open Championship three times, although Player edges the overall Major Championship count with 18 (including nine Senior Majors) compared to the American’s 12 (including five Senior Majors). Indeed Player’s incredible record of 164 victories spanning five decades means he is the most successful of the 18 Major Champions in the field. The 73 year old, who won The Senior Open Championship at Turnberry in 1998 and 1990 and Royal Portrush in 1997, has fond recollections of Sunningdale, which he regards as “one of his favourite places on the planet”. “My memories of Sunningdale are all good,” he said. “The Old Course is a truly classical course where you have to drive well to score well. It’s got everything a classic golf course should have. “It’s going to be a sentimental journey for me this week. When I was at Sunningdale more than half a century ago I stayed in a bed and breakfast with Mr and Mrs Beattie close to the club and they really looked after me. “Sunningdale was where I had my first Tour win and I’m looking forward to meeting up with so many old friends again and reminiscing over those great days.” Also joining Player and Watson among the list of illustrious Major Champions at Sunningdale will be Sir Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle, Greg Norman and Ian Woosnam. Player believes the field is the most impressive he has been part of in the history of The Senior Open Championship. “I’ve almost been an ever present at The Senior Open and it’s very rewarding for me, and I’m sure for the European Senior Tour, to see how the Championship has grown in stature and popularity over its 23 years,” he said.
“The Senior Open has been a showcase Championship for the European Senior Tour and since being recognised by the Champions Tour as a Major at Turnberry in 2003 the Americans have come over in increasing numbers. “With 18 Major winners this is the strongest field ever assembled for the Championship and with players like Ben Crenshaw, Tom Lehman, Mark O’Meara, Larry Mize and three-times Champion Tom Watson among so many leading players it’s going to be an entertaining week. I believe there are also 32 Ryder Cup players competing which adds another interesting dimension to the Championship. “After 22 years on links I was surprised when I heard it was coming to Sunningdale but It’s a lovely golf course and along with Wentworth is one of my favourites. It’s also got one of my favourite holes – the 10th on the Old Course. It’s a magnificent hole with a wonderful view down the valley and up towards the Halfway Hut. Among all the golf courses I’ve designed around the world I’d have been happy to have created that hole.” Player’s support of The Senior Open and the European Senior Tour over the past two decades will continue into 2010 when he is part of the field for the inaugural Berenberg Bank Masters from March 26-28 over The Links at Fancourt which he designed. It will be the Senior Tour’s first visit to Player’s native South Africa.

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