Darren Clarke is relishing his return to Royal Lytham and St Annes as the 2011 Open champion prepares for his first appearance at The Senior Open Presented by Rolex.
The Northern Irishman, who turned 50 last year, is making his debut in Europe’s only Senior Major just one week after teeing it up at The Open on home soil at Royal Portrush last week.
The 2016 Ryder Cup captain missed the cut by just two strokes, but is hoping to bounce back on the Lancashire links where he finished third at The Open in 2001 – 10 years before his victory at Royal St Georges.
“This is my first one, and it’s nice to come back to Lytham again,” said Clarke.
“I played the last one here and I’ve been fortunate to play three previous Opens here.
“The course is wonderful, it’s still as tough as it’s ever been. The course is in a great shape and it will be a very good week.
“2001 was probably the best I’ve ever played in any tournament at Lytham when David (Duval) won here, I made a double bogey on the 17th hole on the 71st hole, so I’ll try and avoid that this week if I can.
“It’s a very strong field, lots of major champions and great players. So it’s going to be a good, fair, stern test.
“I’m not averse to a bit of wind, from what I’ve seen it will change direction over the week, so we’ll see all aspects of the golf course.”
One man who is no stranger to The Senior Open is links legend Tom Watson, who returns to the United Kingdom for his 18th appearance in this event.
Watson is one of three players to have won The Senior Open Trophy on three occasions – alongside Bernhard Langer and Gary Player, and one of three to win both The Senior Open and The Open.
He inspired the golfing world 10 years ago as he finished runner-up to Stewart Cink in the 2009 Open at Turnberry.
Last year at St Andrews, he shot his age – 68 – in the first round and was just three strokes behind Miguel Angel Jiménez after 54 holes.
“It’s an excellent test, it’s grown on me,” said Watson.
“I didn’t particularly understand it in the early Open Championships that I played, but the more I played here the more I enjoyed it and understood it.
“There are several holes out there you have to play well, the first that comes to mind is 12 – the par three – 15 is another one, you really have to play that well.
“They have double the number of bunkers than any other Open venue.
“Links courses test you a little more than the parkland because of the conditions of the soil, how firm the conditions are, adjusting for the roll-out of the ball and the humps and bumps you don’t usually get on parkland golf courses which misdirect or redirect your ball.
“You have to take it with a grain of salt sometimes, you can hit good shots and get bad bounces or bad shots but get good bounces. I’ve been better than the average lucky guy, I’ve had more good bounces than I have bad bounces.”
The pair are joined in the field by six additional former Ryder Cup captains, 12 major champions and 25 further Ryder Cup players.