After another engrossing Open, it’s the turn of the golden oldies this week. The Senior Open Championship takes centre stage at Royal Birkdale, near Southport. The 7,082yd Par 70 track is another renowned links layout and will be playing fast and firm, very much in the style of Muirfield, with warm temperatures and possible showers forecast for the remainder of the week.
I think the top players who warmed up for this event by playing Muirfield will have a big advantage over the rest of the field (playing Castle Stuart Links the week before The Open did not harm the chances of Mickelson or Henrik Stenson). With the exception of Kenny Perry, who declined the trip across the Atlantic, the field is packed with former major winners, oh and Monty! Accuracy, links experience and course management are the key elements required this week.
My main fancy is defending champion Freddie Couples,who arrives here off the back of a highly respectful joint 32nd finish at Muirfield. He has already shown this year by his 13th place finish at Augusta that he can still mix it with the young guns, but he has also been in tremendous form on The Champions Tour with three runner up finishes. He finished joint 3rd at this track in the 1991 Open, and has proven on many occasions that he has a links pedigree. Laid back Freddie must go well this week.
I also like the chance of Tom Lehman, who warmed up for this test with a highly respectable finish at Muirfield. The 1996 Open Champion has always loved this type of links test and he is another who has been in consistent form on the Champions Tour with 6 top ten finishes out of 11 starts. He leads the stats in greens in regulation and this accurate ball striker has to be feared.
On course and distance form alone, I have to incude Mark O’Meara in my staking plan as he won the Open Championship at Birkdale in 1998, and also finished third here to Ian Baker-Finch in 1991. He performed with great credit at Muirfield and this master links tactician will relish the thought of a return to a happy hunting ground. Although he has not been a prolific winner on The Champions Tour he has been in consistent form this year with seven top 10 finishes. Expect a bold show from the genial American.
I also have to have a mention for the evergreen Tom Watson, who swings the clubs like he did 30 years ago. Unfortunately the putter still has a mind of its own and usually costs this great the ultimate prize.