WALTON ON THE HILL, England – After struggling in the rainswept British Open, Bernhard Langer hopes he’s back in his element in the senior version on a course that holds fond memories.
Trying to regain his form following thumb surgery, Langer missed the cut last week at wet and windy Royal St. George’s, shooting 75-73. Conditions should be more benign this week when he tries to defend his Senior British Open title on the tree-lined Walton Heath course, just south of London.
Langer made his Ryder Cup debut at the course in 1981.
“I was fortunate enough to play in a couple of European Opens at Walton Heath before making my first Ryder Cup appearance there in 1981, and I loved it straightaway,” Langer said. “It’s parkland, but with a links look and feel to it. I enjoy the heathland, the trees and the bunkering. All in all, it’s a great inland course.
“I haven’t been back for quite a number of years, so I’m very excited to defend my Senior Open title there. My Ryder Cup debut was obviously a memorable part of my life … It was the start of my love affair with the Ryder Cup.”
The 53-year-old Langer beat American Corey Pavin by a shot to win at Carnoustie last year and won the U.S. Senior Open the following week in the state of Washington.
“To fly straight to the west coast of America for the U.S. Senior Open, with an eight-hour time change, and manage to win was quite a ride,” Langer said. “It was a special two weeks in my career. Majors were elusive on the regular tour, so to win two senior majors in a row was a great feeling.”
Tom Watson is bidding for a record fourth Senior British Open title, after wins in 2003, ’05 and ’07. He won the Senior PGA Championship in May and tied for 22nd last week in the British Open. The 62-year-old Watson had a hole-in-one at Royal St. George’s.
“I didn’t make a double bogey the entire week, and I had a hole-in-one. I’ll remember that for a long time,” Watson said.
Nick Price is making his first appearance in the event.
“It’s the one senior major you really want to win,” Price said. “It’s not the Open Championship, but it is the next best thing for us guys.”
Langer will play alongside American John Cook, tied with Tom Lehman for the Champions Tour victory lead with three, and Scotland’s Gordon Brand Jr.
Watson will play his first two rounds with England’s Barry Lane and Zimbabwe’s Price. An eight-time major winner, Watson said avoiding the thick rough off the tee will be key.
“You have to drive the ball straight to win here, you have to keep it out of the heather and out of the bunkers,” Watson said. “The putter is working well, I was making putts last week that I haven’t been able to do for a long time. I hope it’s not a blip on the radar.”