ST ANDREWS, Scotland >> Never before in the 31-year history of the Senior British Open has the event attracted as much interest from would-be competitors as this week’s edition at St Andrews.
As many as 636 over-50s entered in the hope of teeing-up on golf’s most famous and sacred ground. Only 45 were exempt into the 144-strong line-up and 591 had to go through pre-qualifying.
“Ask any golfer what course first comes to mind and it is St Andrews,” five-time British Open champion Tom Watson said.
“It is recognized around the world as a very special place to be,” added the American veteran, who also won the senior version in 2003 and 2007.
Watson, who bade an emotional farewell to the British Open at St Andrews in 2015, is one of seven former “champion golfers of the year” who have made their way to Scotland for the only senior major that is held outside the United States.
Ten members of the World Golf Hall of Fame are in attendance, as are 10 former Ryder Cup captains. Major champions are well represented; 20 from the regular tour and three from the Champions circuit. It is a field packed with quality.
Eighteen months on from his last start in a regular European Tour event, three-times British Open winner Nick Faldo is making a rare appearance.
“I’m looking forward to hopefully being half-decent on the course,” said the 61-year-old Englishman, six times a major champion. “The great thing about this game is it doesn’t let go. It tortures you. It keeps saying, ‘come on, you can go and practice.’
“I still think I can play. I always want to go play so I’d like to think I can tee it up and actually enjoy myself.”
Colin Montgomerie was runner-up behind Tiger Woods in the 2005 British Open at St Andrews.
“I know my way around this place,” the 55-year-old Scot said. “I also know where not to go. So I can come here with some sort of confidence about where I need to put the golf ball. It’s all a matter of angles and missing the bunkers.
“You need to have that sort of knowledge around here. But it doesn’t come easy. It took me a long time to find out where and where not to go.”
Another player needing little instruction in that department this week is defending champion Paul Broadhurst of England, who shot a then-course record nine-under par 63 in the third round of the British Open in 1990.