Tom Watson savouring Sunningdale return

Tom Watson is targeting a record-breaking fourth victory in The Senior Open Championship Presented by Rolex as the perfect way to round off another unforgettable fortnight on British soil this summer.

The Senior Open returns to Sunningdale Golf Club for the first time since 2009 from July 23-26, and the venue will bring back some poignant memories for the 65 year old, who came within one stroke of shooting his age yesterday (Thursday) in leading after the first round of the US Senior Open in Sacramento, California.

The last time The Senior Open Championship was played over the Berkshire venue’s Old Course in 2009, the American had just come within inches of writing golf’s – and perhaps sport’s – greatest fairy-tale when, at the age of 59, he lost in a play-off to Stewart Cink in The Open Championship at Turnberry.

This time it will be a case of from one Old Course to another when he heads south to Sunningdale after making a sentimental final appearance in The Open at St Andrews.

“It will be another special fortnight in Britain, playing my last Open Championship at St Andrews, taking one final walk over the Swilcan Bridge, and then heading down to the London area to play Sunningdale, which is a course I really do enjoy,” he said. “I’m sure the crowds will come out and support us, as they always do, and make it another memorable Senior Open.

Sunningdale is how golf should be – it’s unique and it brings out the child in you

“Some of the American players have not had chance to play courses like Sunningdale before, and I tell them it is how golf should be. It is unique and it brings out the child in you. You have to play with the bounce and the challenge is to get the ball to go the right distance. You have to embrace that challenge, and work with it.

“We are very lucky with the courses we get to play for The Senior Open Championship. Royal Porthcawl last year was delightful and Sunningdale is another great one, so it is great that we are going back there this summer.”

Watson has vivid recollections of that previous trip to Sunningdale six years ago, when he finished tied eighth the week after he came agonisingly close to becoming the oldest Major Champion in history at Turnberry. Needing to par the closing hole in regulation play to secure a remarkable triumph, Watson could only make bogey before succumbing to Cink in the subsequent play-off.

“I only had one hour of sleep after losing in the play-off to Stewart,” said Watson. “I got a flight straight down to London as I had scheduled a practice round, which I always do to get good knowledge of the golf course before I play a tournament. Despite that, I did not feel tired at all, probably because of all the adrenaline. I questioned whether to even play a practice round but I thought ‘stop feeling sorry for yourself and get out there’, so I decided to prepare as I normally do.

“I had a wonderful practice round, played very well and I had a wonderful night’s sleep that night, ready to play another golf tournament.

“In many ways, having The Senior Open the week after was the best way to quickly get over that disappointment. You just go back out there and you compete again. You have to focus on playing each shot, and nothing else. I finished eighth that week and actually played very well, but I putted poorly. I remember having five or six three-putts which stopped me from winning that week.”

While the 2009 play-off defeat at Turnberry meant Watson was unable to match Harry Vardon’s record of six Claret Jugs, a win at Sunningdale next month would give him the outright record for the most Senior Open titles, surpassing the benchmark of three he currently shares with South African Gary Player.

With eight top ten finishes in 13 appearances in total, including a share of tenth position last year at Royal Porthcawl in Wales, the eight-time Major Champion is rightly proud of his impressive career record in The Senior Open Championship.

“The Senior Open has been a magnificent tournament and I guess it is an achievement in itself to play 14 consecutively,” he said. “You see players come and go during that time but I’ve always enjoyed the venues that we go to. They are the best possible courses and they are a pleasure to play. I’m extremely proud of my three victories and it is my intention, as always, to be in contention again this year, and we will see what shape my game is in when July comes around.”

Watson will be joined by a host of legendary names at Sunningdale Golf Club from July 23-26, including defending champion Bernhard Langer, reigning US Senior Open champion Colin Montgomerie and Ian Woosnam, the 1991 Masters Champion.

Discounted tickets are available in advance with season tickets priced at £70 if purchased before July 1, while one day tickets are £25 and Wednesday practice day tickets are only £12. Under 16s are admitted free of charge when accompanied by an adult and parking is also free.

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