The lure of St Andrews, eh? The Old Course stages the Senior Open for the first time next week and every man and his dog wants to be there. The 120 exempt players in the field include 40 Ryder Cup players, 11 Ryder Cup captains, 71 European Tour winners and 52 PGA Tour victors.
Bidding to join them are a staggering 636 hopefuls from around the world as they compete in four qualifiers taking place tomorrow at Fairmont St Andrews, Ladybank, Lundin Links and Scotscraig. That record number chasing just 24 spots includes 72-year-old Argentinean Vicente Fernandez, controversial US analyst Brandel Chamblee, PGA chief executive Rob Maxfield and Alan McCloskey, a leading Scottish golf coach.
“The phenomenal interest in this year’s Senior Open highlights the enduring appeal of St Andrews,” acknowledged Paul Bush, VisitScotland’s director of events. “The opportunity to visit the Old Course, as either a player or spectator, is irresistible with such a strong field set for 2018.”
Spearheading the Scottish challenge in an event being presented by Rolex is Colin Montgomerie, who will be bidding to secure a third triumph of his career at St Andrews. The eight-time European No 1 was a member of Scotland’s Dunhill Cup-winning side in 1986 before then claiming the 2005 Dunhill Links Championship – just three months after he suffered the agony of finishing tied second behind Tiger Woods in the Open Championship at the Old Course.
“There’s no better feeling than winning at St Andrews and that is what ever golfer over 50 is thinking about right now,” said the 55-year-old, who is having his fifth tilt at the title, finishing a distant second to Bernhard Langer at Royal Porthcawl in 2014 before ending up third to American Marco Dawson at Sunningdale the following year.
“This is the big one. Everybody wants to play there and do well, especially me as the top senior Scot. That’s why it’s the biggest entry the Senior Open has ever had. I’ve been planning my attack since it was announced that we were going to play there and my whole goal this season has been to prepare properly for the event.
“Winning the Dunhill Links put to bed finishing second in The Open and proved to myself that I know my way around St Andrews. That took a while, mind you. I started playing in the Open there in 1990 and it took all four rounds that year, again in 1995, 2000 and 2005 to know how to score round this place and how not to mess up, really.”
The three-time Senior major winner added: “The first three days at St Andrews are going to be about getting in position, ie not do anything stupid and keep the ball where it should be. There are certain key holes that are potential banana skins in many ways. At the first hole, how many people have put their ball in the burn, which is a crazy, stupid mistake, and if you don’t get up and down you’ve immediately made six. The par-5 14th is also a potential disaster. That drive has become increasingly tighter, then you have to make a big decision on the second shot as well.
“Then of course you can’t leave out the 17th. Anything can happen at any time at the Road Hole, and no-one is safe with even a two-shot lead with two to play, as Tom Watson showed in the 1984 Open. Those are the holes I’m thinking about already. But now I know the Old Course as well as anyone and I can’t wait to get going again.”