Golf: Charles can stay in charge

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THIRTY years after he won the Open Championship here, the New Zealand left-hander, Bob Charles, is the man to beat in the Senior British Open starting today.

Financially he stands alone. His Senior winnings of dollars 4,253,386 (pounds 2.8m) is more than any other player has achieved. He leads the American Senior rankings this year with dollars 610,841 and is ninth in the list of worldwide male prize-money winners this season, one place ahead of Nick Faldo.

He is also the professionals' tip to win the tournament. As South Africa's Gary Player said: 'Bob is a far better golfer today than when he won the Open.'

Charles agreed with him. 'I'm probably in better shape physically than I've ever been. I understand my game better, I have more consistency in my swing.' he said.

Charles's only problem now is his putting. 'Because of poor eyesight, I don't have the same confidence I did,' he said. 'I am nowhere near the high standard I used to perform at. I find the hardest part right now is to start the ball on the intended line.'

The ability of these older players, plus the charisma of such men as Arnold Palmer and the 1992 US Senior champion, Larry Laoretti, have been instrumental in making the American Senior circuit, in Player's words, 'The fastest growing tour in the history of golf.'

Player and his compatriots, Bobby Verwey and John Fourie, have between them won this championship four times in the past five years.

What would Charles be doing if Senior tours did not exist? 'I'd be back home in Christchurch, shearing the sheep and bailing the hay - it's a horrible thought,' he added.

This championship, with pounds 220,000 prize-money, is the highlight of the PGA European Seniors' Tour 12-event season. The British presence is weakened because Neil Coles, a winner on the Senior Tour this season, is absent throught illness. But Tommy Horton, the Royal Jersey professional who recently won the Shell Scottish Seniors' Open, Brian Huggett, of Wales, and the Scotsman George Will, now free after a stint as Belgian national coach, are Britain's best hopes of taking the title for the first time since Coles won the inaugural event in 1987.

John Daly has told the US Ryder Cup captain, Tom Watson, that he wants to play in this year's event at The Belfry. Daly, who finished in joint 14th place in last week's Open, made it clear he would willingly accept a wild card if invited. 'If Tom Watson thinks I can help my country I sure won't back off,' he said. A high finish in the Dutch Open at Noordwijk this week would improve Daly's chances of a call-up.

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