James chasing US seniors glory

MARK JAMES will be matching up to legends like Tom Watson and Hale Irwin on the Champions Tour, the rich United States senior circuit, next season.

MARK JAMES will be matching up to legends like Tom Watson and Hale Irwin on the Champions Tour, the rich United States senior circuit, next season.

The former Ryder Cup ace from Burley in Wharfedale is just back from the US having finished second in the Champions Tour final qualifying school.

Though he holds exemptions on the European Tour and European Seniors Tour, James – who qualified for seniors golf on his recent 50th birthday – says: "I will be concentrating very much on playing in the United States next season."

He shot a 10-under-par 278 total in finishing three strokes behind Zimbabwe's Mark McNulty in the Champions Tour final qualifying school.

This was held at Eagle Trace, a challenging TPC course at Coral Springs near Fort Lauderdale in Florida where just seven players were awarded playing rights for next season.

James, the 1999 Ryder Cup team captain, banked 27,000 dollars in posting rounds of 67, 70, 71, 70 and said: "I will be starting with

three events in Florida in February."

He will probably play only "one or two tournaments on the European Seniors Tour" and not at all on the main tour, though he retains an exemption via the career money winners' list.

"I'll only try and qualify to play in the Open Championship, that's all," said James.

His close pal Sam Torrance, another past Ryder Cup captain who joined the European Seniors Tour this year, secured the last of the seven Champions Tour cards, tieing in sixth place on 283.

Five-times Open champion Watson and double US Open winner Irwin are just two of the huge names on the Champions Tour. Watson added to his haul of major titles in winning the Senior British Open at Turnberry in July.

To reach the final qualifying school James had to battle through one of several regional tests at Metro West in Orlando, where he also finished second after firing rounds of 69, 68, 68, 67 for 16 under par. American Dan Reese, who finished ahead of him, missed out at the final school.

The European Seniors Tour qualifying school is currently running at Pestana in southern Portugal, where Bradford's Martin Foster is seeking to regain his playing rights.

Foster, a World Cup international in his days on the major tour, finished 68th in the Senior Tour rankings this year which followed a battle through treatment for a growth on his neck which blighted his 2002 season.

Former Harrogate club professional Donald Stirling is bidding for a tour place next season, for which he will qualify in May on his 50th birthday.

Brough club professional Gordon Townhill is also chasing a place, while Hallamshire's Geoff Tickell bids to regain the tour place he won at the 2002 qualifying school.