Cup stars return to scene of victory

Sam Torrance and 10 members of his victorious European Ryder Cup side return to The Belfry this week for the 33rd and final Benson and Hedges International Open.

Sam Torrance and 10 members of his victorious European Ryder Cup side return to The Belfry this week for the 33rd and final Benson and Hedges International Open.

All bar Sergio Garcia and Jesper Parnevik are in action on the Midlands course which has staged so much drama over the years.

Paul McGinley’s mind will naturally go back to his 18th green putt which sent the Americans to defeat, while Phillip Price will never walk onto the 16th green without thinking of the moment when he beat world number two Phil Mickelson.

Torrance himself could fill a book with his Belfry experiences – sinking the winning putt in 1985, pulling out of the 1993 singles with a septic toe, sleepwalking into a flowerpot and fracturing his sternum while staying at the hotel, cutting his head on his car door on another trip, then masterminding the victory eight months ago.

But for many of the players teeing it up in the first round on Thursday, memories will be of past Benson and Hedges as much as past Ryder Cups.

The event, ending now because of a British government ban on most tobacco sponsorship, began at Fulford near York in 1971 with Tony Jacklin taking the inaugural title.

St Mellion in Cornwall became its base in 1990, then The Oxfordshire six years later and then The Belfry three years ago.

Dubliner Padraig Harrington will never forget the tournament that season. Leading by five with a round to go and with the course record to his name, he did not play another shot.

As he was preparing for the final 18 holes it was discovered that the Dubliner had not signed his first round scorecard. There was nothing wrong with it, but the lack of a signature meant disqualification.

Harrington accepted it with none of the fuss that accompanied Seve Ballesteros’ exit from the Italian Open on Saturday and Jose Maria Olazabal became champion instead.

Olazabal is one of only three double winners of the trophy in its history - Australian Graham Marsh and Bernhard Langer are the others – and nobody has made a successful defence. Argentina’s Angel Cabrera has the opportunity to be the first now.

Peter Baker was the youngest winner aged 20 in 1988, making an eagle on the final hole to catch Nick Faldo, then another to beat him in the play-off. Baker succeeded the oldest-ever winner, 42-year-old Australian Noel Ratcliffe.

Between them all the winners over the years have collected 22 major championships and 308 European tour victories.

Torrance has missed the event only twice, winning in 1984 at Fulford and recording a further four top 10 finishes. The 49-year-old was lying joint third at halfway two years ago, then injured himself on the practice ground and had to pull out.

Now he has another chance for another Belfry memory. In terms of the Benson and Hedges event, one last chance.

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