Golf: Horton improves without practice

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The Independent Online
THE 18TH green at the Buckinghamshire lies between the River Colne and Denham Court Mansion, the Grade II listed building that serves as the clubhouse. By preserving a historic site and giving it a modern usage, the setting is perfect for the Senior Tournament of Champions. The long- handled putter has given many of those on the European Seniors Tour a new lease of life, none more so than the Colin Montgomerie of the over- 50s circuit, Tommy Horton.

Leaning over the implement, Horton duly rolled in a 15-footer for a birdie at the last. It would not be good enough to win an event cut to 36 holes by Saturday's storm - John Garner took the title - but it was a fitting end to another profitable season for the Royal Jersey club professional.

Horton's trademark is to blow a kiss to his ball as it finds the hole and Brian Huggett followed suit while matching his playing partner's birdie. Huggett won the Senior Masters and the Senior British Open in successive weeks in August but already knew he could not prevent Horton from taking his third money title in a row and his fourth in six years.

"It was a nice way to end the season," said Horton, who collected pounds 127,656 over the year. Horton is 57 and thinks his time might be up as age takes its toll and the standard of play on the growing circuit increases. Christy O'Connor Jnr will be playing full-time next year and Bernard Gallacher will also come on board. But John Jacobs, the original golfing guru and father of the regular tour where the likes of Horton and Huggett first made their names, does not agree.

Jacobs said: "I'm thrilled for Tommy. He was a super player in his heyday but he is probably playing better now." Three wins this year followed 10 over the previous two seasons, making him the undisputed No 1. "Modern technology has helped but technically my swing is better than ever," Horton said. "I still carry the ball as far as before, and I do putt better with the long putter."

Arthritis in his hands prevents Horton practising much, something he shares with Montgomerie. What the Scot does not have to contend with is having a day job. Between tournaments, Horton works in the pro shop and gives lessons.

But he is thinking of ending his association with Royal Jersey which goes back to 1972 to spend more time at home - "I'm a bit of an odd job man" and, with his wife who travels with him, spending more time in the places they visit "to have a look at them for the first time".

"We always hoped the Seniors tour would take off and now it is a reality," Horton added. "Now the first five on the Order of Merit can make a living without having to have another job and, maybe that will be the top 10 next year."

His goal now is to win the Senior British Open, a title Huggett took this year in a play-off from Eddie Polland. It was the second time in a week Polland had lost a play-off to Huggett, but the former Ryder Cup player's maiden win looked certain before he hit bogeys at the final two holes.

They included a shanked chip at the 17th, the short par four where John Garner drove the green to set up a birdie. "As the shortest man in the field, I thought I had to go for it," he said of the drive with a 240- yard carry over water.

Having suddenly found himself in contention, Garner, bedecked in plus- twos, left his first putt at the last six feet short, but a par gave the 51-year-old a first Seniors win and his first of any sort for 26 years, since the 1972 B&H Matchplay.

"It was a game of patience," Garner said, "and that's a word we over- 50s know." The first prize of pounds 20,000 pushed his season's reward to over pounds 48,000, far in excess of his regular tour earnings, though for the last 20 years the Lancastrian has mainly been involved with coaching, including the Icelandic national team. "We are all very grateful for a second chance," Garner added.