PORTHCAWL, Wales – Tom Watson, one of the all-time masters of links golf with five British Open championships under his belt, has taken to his heart Royal Porthcawl, the venue for the British Senior Open starting on Thursday.
''This is a great test of golf, I fell in love with it immediately,'' said Watson, a three-time British Seniors winner.
He tees up in the first two rounds with Fred Couples and Colin Montgomerie, winner of the year's first two senior majors, the Senior PGA and the U.S. Senior Open.
''Knowing where you can hit the ball is a key factor in links golf, simply because it runs so far, and this course is in great shape and will prove a true test, especially if the wind blows.''
Champion in 2003, 2005 and 2007 at Turnberry, Royal Aberdeen and Muirfield respectively, Watson arrived at Porthcawl fresh from shooting a 4-under-par 68 in the final round of the British Open, won by Rory McIlroy at Hoylake on Sunday.
''This is tougher than Hoylake was,'' Watson said. ''It really is a wonderful, wonderful golf course. Actually, I talked to Peter Dawson of the R&A about playing an Open Championship here and he said the course itself could certainly handle it, but they don't have the infrastructure.''
Montgomerie, also seeing Royal Porthcawl for the first time, comes into the event full of confidence, and on course to match Gary Player's trio of senior majors in 1988.
Montgomerie pointed to his putting as the bedrock of his current form.
''If you look at the stats, I was leading the putting stats on the Champions Tour for the first three months,'' he said. ''My best putting stats when I was winning the Order of Merit over here - I think I was 30th one year. That gives you huge confidence to stand on the next tee and hit your shot.''
Defending champion Mark Wiebe plays the first two rounds alongside Bernhard Langer, who he beat in a five-hole playoff at Royal Birkdale last year, and Miguel Angel Jimenez, who won the Greater Gwinnett title in Duluth, Ga., on his Champions Tour debut in April.
Unlike Monty, Wiebe is short on confidence.
''I've had an awfully tough year. I've had injuries and have never withdrawn from so many tournaments before,'' Wiebe said.
Jimenez was upbeat about his chances: ''A senior major would be very nice, so maybe we'll start with this one,'' said the popular Spaniard.
Corey Pavin, with a second and two thirds in previous British Seniors, plays his first two rounds with Wales' favorite golfing son, Ian Woosnam, and England's Roger Chapman, the winner of the Senior PGA and British Seniors two years ago.