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Tom Lehman
Tom Lehman says he can challenge this week because he understands the course. (Getty Images)

Experience will matter more than length on Old Course, says Lehman

There are nine 50-somethings in the field this week, and former champion Tom Lehman believes the oldsters -- including himself -- can be right there challenging again on Sunday.

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland (PA) -- Tom Watson last summer; Greg Norman two years ago. They didn’t win the British Open, but they certainly made them memorable. Now American Tom Lehman, another 50-something, is telling people not to be surprised if a 'Golden Oldie' is found challenging for the Claret Jug again at St. Andrews this week.

The man who won at Royal Lytham in 1996 is now 52 and hoping it will be him, of course, but there are no fewer than nine over-50s in the 156-strong field.

Sir Nick Faldo, winner at the Home of Golf 20 years ago, plays so little golf these days he will not be shouting about his chances, but it should not be forgotten he finished 11th only five years ago on the course's last staging of the event.

"It's a wide open game, I think," Lehman said. "Experience will be a big deal at the Old Course -- length is always nice, but it's not necessary there. I know Phil Mickelson has some big study that says bombers always win, but what about Nick Faldo? He did just fine there and he's not a big-hitter. It's always more about precision. Links golf requires creative shot-making and I don't know whether modern equipment, which leads to modern technique, lends itself to that kind of shot-making.

"Guys are as talented, but they didn't grow up playing golf the way Tom Watson did,” Lehman added. "When we are on our game and on the right courses, I think we have as good a chance as anybody else. There are courses like Bethpage where you can forget it, no chance, but on a links course absolutely. If I am on my game I think I'll have a chance. I have good memories of St Andrews."

The former U.S. Ryder Cup captain came in fourth in 2000 and 23rd last time, and he points out: "I've also played it in the Dunhill Cup -- I know how to play the course."

Lehman has also had two top-20 finishes on the PGA Tour this season and made the cut at the Memorial and last week's Scottish Open.

"I've played well every tournament this year except the U.S. Open," he said. "I've played a lot of good golf -- steady has always been my game and it's been a very consistent year of solid play all the way through."

The other over-50s competing this week are his fellow former winners Faldo, Mark Calcavecchia, Sandy Lyle, Mark O'Meara and, of course, 60-year-old Watson, plus Australian Peter Senior and American Tom Pernice, both of whom came through qualifying events, and reigning British Senior Open champion Loren Roberts.

Watson was taking what most observers thought would just be a trip down memory lane at Turnberry last summer, but at the scene of his 1977 win over Jack Nicklaus he led by one with one to play, only to bogey the hole and lose the playoff to Stewart Cink.

Twelve months earlier at Royal Birkdale, Norman was 53 when he led with nine holes to play before slipping to third.

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