Yesterday an enthusiastic audience saw glimpses of vintage O'Connor in the second round of the Forte PGA Seniors Championship over Sunningdale's Old Course. The Irishman shot 68, a stroke less than the number of birthdays he has celebrated. The leaders are John Morgan and David Creamer, both at four under on 136 after scoring 68 and 66 respectively.
O'Connor, who had a 75 in the first round, stands at three over par for the tournament. The leading 50 players plus ties survive to the third and final round today and O'Connor made it comfortably. Sadly the same could not be said of Thomson. The 64-year-old Australian who, four decades ago monopolised the Open Championship, knew he was for the gangplank following a 12-over-par 82 in the first round. Despite a respectable 73 yesterday Thomson, at 15 over par for the championship, bowed out.
At the 18th he hit his approach shot to within about 10 feet of the flag and missed the putt. Before walking into the recorder's caravan he took one last, lingering look at the famous scene around the closing hole at the Old Course. Actually, it may be not be the last time. 'You never know,' Thomson said. 'I might need the money.'
Thomson had played in only one event this year before the Forte PGA. 'I need to play more,' he said. 'I enjoy it when I'm hitting the ball well but otherwise it's hard work. If you don't play you get too stiff.' Thomson will spend next week working on a course he has designed at St Andrews, the only one in Britain out of 20 projects on his books. The course is scheduled to open next July.
The only thing missing from O'Connor's left arm is a tattoo of an anchor and a can of spinach. 'It's ramrod straight,' Thomson said. 'Only Sam Snead had such an arm.' O'Connor, who will be 70 in December, drove the ball extraordinary distances yesterday. At the 17th, for example, a par four of 421 yards, he hammered a drive of more than 300 yards and was left with just a wedge shot to the green.
O'Connor, who has no need of Grecian 2000, something which cannot be said of his nephew Christy O'Connor Jnr, said he gets his arm strength from exercising with weights. At the first hole (494 yards, par five), he hit a four-iron approach to seven feet and made the putt for an eagle three. This is only his second tournament on the fledgling Seniors circuit.
'I putt too badly,' O'Connor, who plays out of Royal Dublin, said. Instead he makes a lucrative living out of company days. At the height of his powers O'Connor, despite a number of invitations, never played in the Masters at Augusta because the travel expenses were too high.
Thomson and O'Connor were playing with the Spaniard Antonio Garrido. Garrido, at two over following a 72, curtails his expenses by getting the family to caddie for him. When Garrido was on the European Tour his son Ignacio carried his bag. Ignacio is now making his own way on the regular tour and so here Antonio has introduced his youngest son, nine-year-old Daniel. Daniel, despite being no taller than his father's putter, is a useful player but he did not go so far as to advise Antonio on club selection.