James Hibbitt offers his thoughts on Senior Open presented by Rolex

Miguel Angel Jimenez
Miguel Angel Jimenez

James Hibbitt looks ahead to the Senior Open presented by Rolex, which gets under way at Royal Lytham & St Annes on Thursday morning.

By James Hibbitt

The Course

This week, Royal Lytham & St. Annes plays host to the 33rd edition of the Senior Open presented by Rolex.

Golf fans will be familiar with the undulating dunes, red fescue and the graveyard of bunkers that line the fairways and surround the greens. It’s one of the world’s premier links courses and has played host to two Ryder Cups, 11 Open Championships and numerous other major tournaments - including the Women’s and Seniors Open Championship.

It last hosted the Open itself in 2012 when Ernie Els, courtesy of a late collapse from Adam Scott, secured his second Claret Jug. More recently, Georgia Hall picked up her first major championship in the 2018 Ricoh Women’s British Open with dad alongside her on the bag.

It’s not a conventionally pretty links course in the mould of Royal Portrush, in that the fairways are lined with suburban housing which a railway line passes through, but it has a unique charm. It’s a links course that sits a kilometre from the sea yet close enough for the sea breeze to play its part and has long been a fierce challenge.

With the iconic course on view and ticket prices at just £30 per day, the links is set to attract flocks of golf fans. And that doesn’t even mention the star studded field of yesteryear battling the intense heat that a British summer rarely offers.

Defending champion

Miguel Angel Jimenez is the defending champion, having outlasted the ageless Bernard Langer at the home of golf, St. Andrews, in 2018. His final round 69 and a 12-under total was enough to secure his second seniors’ major.

The Spaniard was present in the field at last week’s Open but with only a single birdie in rounds of 82 and 73, he missed the cut in disappointing fashion before being caught on camera on Sunday, working on his game alongside the leaders on the driving range.

If he is to become the first player to successfully defend this title since Christy O’Connor Jnr in 2000, he will need to improve his game immensely from last week – though there had been encouraging signs in this sort of company beforehand.

Ones to watch

Bernhard Langer

Like a fine wine, the German gets better as he gets older - and at the ripe old age of 61 he is showing no signs of letting up.

That said, with a T34 and T24 in the Senior Players Championship and Senior US Open respectively, Langer enters the week in less than inspiring form.

He came within a whisker of a playoff last year and has the unique opportunity of adding to his 2010, 2014 and 2017 victories to become the first player to win the Senior Open on four occasions.

He is also the first person in history to win ten senior majors and the only player to have won each of the five currently available.

Retief Goosen

Goosen has put together a fine debut season on the Champions Tour, with five top 15 finishes in the 12 events he has played including a first major in the Senior Players Championship.

Goosen managed two US Opens in his career on the regular circuit, but never bettered the T5 finish he put together in the 2005 (St Andrews) and 2009 (Turnberry) Open Championships. He’ll be looking to get the next best feeling this week at Lytham.

Colin Montgomerie

Having finished second on five separate occasions, Monty is generally considered to be one of the best golfers never to have won a Major.

Following Sergio Garcia’s victory at the 2017 Masters, Monty (75) trails only Jay Haas (87) and Lee Westwood (76) as the player with the most starts without a major title.

It’s that which remains the missing piece in a fabulous career, during which he was for a long time Europe’s leading light both on the circuit and in Ryder Cup mode.

Monty is increasingly a fan favourite and will be greeted by one of the loudest cheers on the first tee. The old adage may ring true: form is temporary, class is permanent.

Tom Lehman

Returning to the scene of his 1996 Open Championship victory, Lehman will be looking to join Gary Player, Bob Charles and Tom Watson as the only players to have won both the Open and Senior Open Championship.

The American was visibly emotional as he, and his son and caddie, Thomas, made their way up the 18th on Friday at Portrush. Rounds of 78 and 76 left the American well outside the cut line in what is expected to be the 60-year-old’s final appearance at the Open.

In his post round interview, Lehman admitted that his game was not in great shape. I don’t expect him to compete but it’ll be great to see one of the legends of the game return to the scene of his finest golfing achievement.

Stephen Ames

Every time I see the name Stephen Ames I think of one of the most awkward moments in modern golf history.

In 2000, Ames said: “He [Tiger Woods] doesn’t look like he has enough respect for other players. Tiger’s coming across as bigger than the game. He’s a spoiled 24-year-old. He made $11 million [in 1999] and endorsed more than $50 million – what’s he got to be unhappy about?”

Fast forward to the 2006 WGC Accenture Match Play Championship, in which he faced Tiger in the round of 64, Ames keen not to downplay his changes of a shock victory, saying: “Anything can happen. Especially where he’s hitting the ball.”

Like the old Louis Theroux documentary, Beware of the Tiger, the Big Cat refused to make any comment before the match, instead letting his clubs do the talking.

Woods opened with six straight birdies and won every hole on the front nine. They exchanged a half in par on the 10th and the resulting 9&8 victory set a record for the largest win at the match play.

When asked if Woods was aware of Ames’ comments, he simply nodded. When asked for his reaction, he simply repeated that scoreline: “9 and 8.”

Does Ames have a chance this week? Maybe. But I’d rather recall the Tiger tale even if he would prefer not to.

Darren Clarke

The Northern Irishman, and 2011 Open champion, is making his Senior Open debut.

Many expected Clarke to play a ceremonial role at Portrush but he put together two very competitive rounds of 71 abd 74 to narrowly miss the cut. If it wasn’t for a triple-bogey on the 18th hole on Friday, he would have played the weekend.

Providing the celebrations of Lowry’s victory aren’t still ongoing, and consumption of Guinness remained under 25 pints, I would expect Darren to provide more quality than his 80/1 price would suggest. One thing is for sure, he’ll attract a large gallery.

Brandel Chamblee

The sometimes controversial writer and broadcatser has done it again. After a week covering the events at Portrush, Chamblee swapped the microphone for his clubs and qualified at Fairhaven.

He was said to be “delighted” to qualify for the second consecutive year but admitted that he “didn’t touch a club last week”.

No one will expect Chamblee to provide a title challenge but we should applaud his achievement by qualifying. He’ll be looking to fare a little better than last year, when he missed the cut following rounds of 77 and 75.

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