TWO former Ryder Cup captains are competing in next week’s Local Final Qualifying for the Open Championship at Muirfield as Colin Montgomerie is being joined in Tuesday’s two-round shoot-out at Gullane by Mark James.
The Englishman, a much- maligned European captain at the infamous ‘Battle of Brookline’ in 1999, is out two groups behind Montgomerie along with Korean Byeog Hun An and East Berkshire’s Guy Woodman.
James, who turns 60 later this year, has recorded five top-ten finishes in the world’s oldest major, including a third – behind American Bill Rogers at Royal St George’s in 1981 – and two fourths.
He missed the cut as fellow Englishman Nick Faldo recorded his Muirfield double in 1987 and 1992 and last played in the R&A’s flagship event 13 years ago.
An 18-time European Tour winner, James became the first European player to claim victory in one of the majors on the Champions Tour – the 2005 Ford Senior Players Championship, the same event Montgomerie and Sandy Lyle are playing in this week.
He followed that up with two more successes on the over-50s circuit in the States, where he also joined forces with Irishman Des Smyth to record a brace of victories in the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf.
No longer exempt for the Champions Tour, James has entered the 142nd Open Championship out of Ilkley, where both he and Montgomerie, who cut his golfing teeth on the Yorkshire course when his family lived in the area, are honorary members.
While James is likely to be the oldest player amongst 288 competitors at four venues – Dunbar, Musselburgh and North Berwick are the other courses being used – he’s certainly not the only hopeful in their 50s bidding for a last hurrah in the event.
At the age of 53, former PGA champion Andrew Oldcorn won last Monday’s Regional Qualifier at Bruntsfield Links and, though admitting the odds are stacked against him with just three spots up for grabs at each of the course, he’s hoping to repeat a successful passage at the same stage 25 years ago.
“I was just thinking about that the other day,” the Edinburgh man told The Scotsman. “It was in the days when final qualifying was held on the Sunday and Monday after the Scottish Open and I remember playing with Billy Andrade.
“It was an Open I really wanted to play in and I made it with two scores in the mid-60s, the first, I think, having been a course record at the time, though it has probably been beaten since then.”
One of the leading lights on the European Senior Tour these days, Oldcorn’s main priority next week is an event in Switzerland. “In terms of the golf course, Gullane is the one I wanted as I know it like the back of my hand and I’ve got to try and utilise that,” he added. “But, in terms of physicality, it’s not the one I wanted and I’ve got to look at my body for the Senior event.
“I’d love to play in one more Open, especially one at Muirfield, and, historically, I’ve got a good record in the qualify. The forecast looks okay so I’ll certainly give it a go, though if I’m well out of contention after the first round I will probably pull out. If it’s a half decent day, I think you’ll need to six or seven-under after the 36 holes.”