Smyth eyeing fresh assault on Europe

Ireland’s Des Smyth is preparing to reignite his European Senior Tour career in 2009 after six years of splitting his schedule with the US Champions Tour. 

Smyth has decided to concentrate on playing in Europe next year and is now looking to build on his two previous Senior Tour victories, which came at the Senior Tour Championship in 2006 and the 2007 Wentworth Senior Masters.

The man from Drogheda earned $4.4million in prize money on the other side of the Atlantic, including two tournament wins in 2005, but will now attempt to succeed Ian Woosnam as the Senior Tour Number One.

“I’ve completed six years on the Champions Tour and had a fantastic time,” he said. “I played well for five of those years but not so well last year. I had a poor season. My original intention was to do four years so I stayed longer than I planned.

“It’s no place to be unless you are on top of your game. I was getting a bit homesick – too many nights eating on my own. So I’m looking forward to coming back and playing in Europe. It was always my intention to play this Tour – it’s my home Tour and it’s where I played for 30 years on the main Tour so I’m back here now and I’m looking forward to the new season.

“I feel more comfortable here in Europe – the fact that I can get home at the weekends is a huge bonus. It’s not easy for a European to play in America having to stay out there for so long – you are doing four and six week stretches. The fact you can play in Ireland and England and Scotland and then get home will make a big difference to me.

“The few times I have played well last year were when I played at home. I knew that might happen as I feel much more comfortable here. I did lose a bit of form but I’ve been working hard on my game. I’m not putting well enough, though, so I have plenty to work on – there’s never a dull moment in professional golf.”

Smyth, of course, still holds the record as the oldest winner on The European Tour, set when he won the Madeira Island Open in 2001 at the age of 48 years and 34 days. That proud achievement was threatened by two fellow Senior Tour members during the 2008 calendar year –Greg Norman, who led The Open Championship until the back nine of the final round, and Bernhard Langer, who was in contention at the UBS Hong Kong Open before finishing tied for sixth.

Now Smyth is looking forward to adding more entries to his own already impressive CV and being back among old friends when he returns to the Senior Tour full time– including Northern Ireland’s Jimmy Heggarty who led the recent Senior Tour Qualifying School and Woosnam, whom he was a Vice Captain for at The 2006 Ryder Cup at the K Club.

An eight times European Tour winner, Smyth finished third in the Senior Tour Order of Merit in 2005, the year he lost a play-off to Tom Watson in The Senior Open Championship at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club.

His best performance of last season came in his homeland, when he agonisingly missed out on landing the Irish Seniors Open in association with Fáilte Ireland and Allied Irish Bank. Smyth was edged out at Ballyliffin Golf Club by Spaniard Juan Quiros who produced a sublime approach shot to birdie the last hole, meaning the Irishman had to settle for second place.

The 55 year old admitted his home Senior Open was one tournament he would dearly like to win but insisted his goal for next season is simply to target victory every time he tees up.

“I’d like to win them all if I could,” said Smyth. “I tee up every week trying to win. I’m trying to play my best game and I know that if I can get my best game out I have a chance of winning.

“It is a very strong Tour though. Some of the guys are playing great golf. There’s lots of good players here. Even the guys who might be seen as lesser lights play great golf. Unless you shoot well below par and beat up the golf course you are not going to get anywhere near the top of the list.

“My goal is to play well – that’s always my goal. And once I play well whatever happens happens after that.”