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McNulty sets sights on Champions Tour

Zimbabwe's Mark McNulty, who came within a whisker of becoming the European Tour's oldest winner earlier this year, is on track to qualify for the lucrative over-fifties Champions Tour in the United States.

McNulty, having turned 50 on October 25, finished top of his regional qualifying group at Lake Buena Vista in Florida on Friday and will tee off at Coral Springs next week with 107 other hopefuls for the final stage.

"Everybody can say it (Champions Tour qualifying) should be easy for me but it's never a foregone conclusion," McNulty said after completing rounds of 71, 65, 69 and 68 on the Magnolia Course.

"I played really well in regional qualifying. Now I've got to go and play really well at Coral Springs.

"And I haven't really made any plans for next year because a lot hinges on how you qualify, even if you actually make it," added McNulty, who has claimed 16 career victories on the European Tour.

The dapper Zimbabwean, bracketed with Ben Crenshaw and Brad Faxon as among the best putters in the game over the last 20 years, wants to emulate fellow Southern Africans Simon Hobday and John Bland in the United States.

Hobday won the 1994 U.S. Senior Open at Pinehurst No. 2 for the biggest title of his career while Bland was named the 1996 Champions Tour rookie of the year, winning four times that season for earnings of $1,357,987.

"It would be great to follow in their footsteps but I've got to get there first," said McNulty.

"Having said that, though, conditions in the States are obviously more suited weather-wise (than in Europe) and the golf courses are all pretty darn good, so it's just a question of getting stuck in there."

Assuming McNulty does gain playing privileges for next year by finishing in the top 15 at Coral Springs next week, he knows he will have to make the most of his first two or three seasons.

"There are a lot of pluses being able to play the seniors tour, particularly with all the money available to be won," said the three-times German Open winner.

"But you need to cash in on your first couple of seasons with more and more 50-year-olds coming on board each year."

If McNulty can reproduce some of his European form of this year on the 2004 Champions Tour, he should flourish.

The Zimbabwean, who escaped with facial injuries when his car collided with a bus near his parents' farm in 1980, tied for fifth at the Wales Open in June and then came agonisingly close to winning the European Open in Dublin the following month.

"It was very, very close at the end and I did play well enough, I felt, to win but one of the guys just played better," said McNulty, who ended up a stroke behind winner Phillip Price of Britain.

McNulty, bidding for his 17th European Tour title, had given himself hope of a playoff at the K Club by shooting a final-round 68 but had to settle for a share of second after Price finished bogey-birdie for a two-under-par 70.

"But I enjoyed that week immensely and I learned a lot with my game," added the Zimbabwean. "I'd been working on a few things before that week and they came to the fore there.

"I've had some good results this year, so I'm happy enough."

McNulty has always been an accurate driver of the ball but wants to improve his ball-striking consistency for the Champions Tour.

"In the old days, I used to be content with the ball finding the middle of the fairway and I didn't really worry about the ball-striking," he said.

"But these days it's more whether the ball comes off the middle of the bat. Even if it goes skew, I don't mind too much -- as long as it comes out off the middle of the bat."

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