Christy O’Connor Jnr has turned to the belly putter in a desperate attempt to break his AIB Irish Seniors Open hoodoo.
Since he joined the senior ranks in 1998, O’Connor has yet to mount a major challenge for his ‘home’ event, which gets underway at Adare Manor Hotel and Golf Resort today.
And after some mediocre putting performances in his two tournament starts this year, the genial Galwayman knows that he is a massive outsider for the prestigious €330,000 tournament,
Eleven three putts in 36 holes at the recent Quinn Direct Charity Trophy at Slieve Russell set alarm bells ringing and he has turned to the belly putter in the hope that he can find some inspiration on Adare’s treacherous putting surfaces.
He explained: “It’s only the second time I have used the belly putter and I actually putted quite well the last time so I can’t remember why I stopped using it. Hopefully this year it will behave.
“To get off to any kind of a quick start will be important. With a three round tournament you have to get off to a good start and not be too far behind after one because there is very little catching up time.”
As Adare’s touring professional, O’Connor Jnr would love nothing more than to return to the winner’s circle in front of his fans.
But he knows that unless he can rediscover his putting touch, he is unlikely to frightened the top class field which has been assembled at the spectacular Limerick venue.
He added: “I’ve played so little so it’s hard to know how I will go. I’m a little tournament rusty but I am actually hitting the ball surprisingly well.
“You need some tournaments under your belt and I am not playing any at all. I’ve only played two events the whole year but hopefully we can get going.”
O’Connor’s putting has caused him problems in recent years and he is now dedicating most of his time to his golf course design business with five projects in progress around the world.
He will certainly be up against some serious opposition this week with Seniors Tour Order of Merit leader Terry Gale from Australia and Englishman Carl Mason, winner of last year’s Merit list and in second place this season, hotly fancied to take the title.
Defending champion Noel Ratcliffe of Australia and Japanese stars Seiji Ebihara and Noboru Sugai are also in the field alongside the big hitting Jamaican Delroy Cambridge and Cork’s Denis O’Sullivan.
Despite the challenge, nobody knows the Adare course as well as O’Connor and his encouraging form on the practice ground has left him in positive mood.
He explained: “If I can get stuck in after the first round I think I can hang in there. It’s good to be hitting the ball quite nicely. But you need a little but of luck and hole a few putts and hopefully I can do that.
“The problem in Adare is that you’ve go to hit it into the proper shelf on the greens and if you miss on the wrong side you are going to have a very troublesome first putt over a hump or a slope.
“Hopefully I will hit the ball to the right side of the pin and if you do you give yourself lots of opportunities here.”
Although he is winding down his tournament career, O’Connor plans to play in the Senior British Open and the US Senior Open in St Louis later this summer.
He said: “I will also play in Wales, Portugal and then in the Senior Masters at Woburn and I will probably play some more, but that’s all I have entered for the moment.
“I am going to play the quality tournaments if I can and try to combine that with my design work.
“I would always like to play tournament golf as long as I feel I can win. If I didn’t feel I could win I wouldn’t be here.
“I would hate to just make up the numbers. I would hate that. I think the fun of tournament golf is being out there and getting in there going down the stretch. Hopefully I can do that this week.”
O’Connor will spearhead a nine-man Irish challenge which includes Cork’s Denis O’Sullivan, former Ryder Cup player Eddie Polland as well as amateurs Arthur Pierse of Tipperary and Limerick’s Dermot Morris.
But all eyes will be on Mason, who became the most successful rookie in European Seniors history last season as he banked €350,000 from 11 starts.
The Englishman won four times and was second twice - including a play-off loss to Tom Watson in the Senior British Seniors Open at Turnberry.
And he is looking forward to challenging for the title on a course he rates a one of the best on tour.
He beamed: “I’m ready to go here. I must say it was a bit of a surprise how good I was last year.
“I thought it would take me a little time to get going but I just came out of the blocks really hot and it was great.
“I had a great year time, obviously. But it’s a tough act to follow, nigh impossible to do the same thing again.”
On the challenge this week he added: “The greens here are quick and quite slopey and the rough is quite vicious. Miss the fairway and the rough is as it should be - tough.
“The premium is to drive it well and then hit your irons shots in the right places. The greens have all these levels and you have to get it on to the correct level.”
The AIB Irish Seniors Open marks the seventh leg of this year’s Seniors Tour, which boasts at least 21 Order of Merit counting events offering overall prize money of €6,438,000.
> Tee-times > Rd 1 > 7.55 P Reed (USA), G Cali (It); > 8.05 J Dolan III (USA), D W Morris (Ire), D Taki (Jpn); > 8.15 J Mashego (SA), A Croce (It), J Benda (USA); > 8.25 B Lendzion (USA), B Heuchan (Can), C Defoy (Wal); > 8.35 A Garrido (Sp), P Diniz (Bra), M Ferguson (Aus); > 8.45 B Shearer (Aus), D JONES (N IRE), P Dugeny (Fr); > 8.55 A Tapie (USA), H Woodrome (USA), D Huish (Scot); > 9.10 DJ Russell (Eng), D Durnian (Eng), B Cameron (Eng; > 9.20 J Grace (USA), LIAM HIGGINS (IRE), M Miller (Scot); > 9.30 EDDIE POLLAND (N IRE), B Jones (Aus), C Moody (Eng); > 9.40 M Bembridge (Eng), J Bruner (USA), L Carbonetti (Arg); > 9.50 PAUL LEONARD (N IRE), G Levenson (SA), B Longmuir (Scot); > 10.00 I Stanley (Aus), M Gray (Scot), G Watine (Fr); > 10.15 D Cambridge (Jam), H Carbonetti (Arg), I Mosey (Eng); > 10.25 C Mason (Eng), CHRISTY O’CONNOR JNR (IRE), N Ratcliffe (Aus); > 10.35 D Oakley (USA), B Gallacher (Scot), G Encina (Chi); > 10.45 J Morgan (Eng), J Rhodes (Eng), P Elson (Eng); > 10.55 P Oakley (USA), JOE MCDERMOTT (IRE), M Gregson (Eng); > 11.05 J Chillas (Scot), J Hawkes (SA), N Coles (Eng); > 11.15 T Gale (Aus), S Ebihara (Jpn), DENIS O’SULLIVAN (IRE); > 11.30 DR ARTHUR SPRING (IRE), D Creamer (Eng), R Carrasco (USA); > 11.40 N Job (Eng), D Good (Aus), G Wintz (USA); > 11.50 S Owen (NZ), T Horton (Eng), N Sugai (Jpn); > 12.00 B Vivian (NZ), J Van Wagenen (USA), C Maltman (Scot); > 12.10 D Chillas (Scot), ARTUR PIERSE (IRE) am, B Hardwick (Can); > 12.20 JOHN CURTIS (IRE), J Irwin (Can), K Iwama (Jpn).
> Card of the Course (yards) > 1 - 392 - 4 > 2 - 384 - 4 > 3 - 386 - 4 > 4 - 180 - 3 > 5 - 386 - 4 > 6 - 181 - 3 > 7 - 514 - 5 > 8 - 427 - 4 > 9 - 542 - 5 > Out - 33392 - 36
10 - 441 - 4 > 11 - 164 - 3 > 12 - 511 - 5 > 13 - 409 - 4 > 14 - 400 - 4 > 15 - 370 - 4 > 16 - 150 - 3 > 17 - 381 - 4 > 18 - 544 - 5 > In - 3370 - 36
Total - 6762 - 72