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Don Pooley back to defend Senior title

Don Pooley faces an uphill task in his title defence at this week's U.S. Seniors Open in Toledo Ohio, having missed the first four months of the season following shoulder surgery.

The 51-year-old American, who won last year's tournament by beating eight-times major champion Tom Watson in a playoff, was operated on in early January and has missed two cuts in three starts since then.

"The shoulder is 90 percent recovered, but it's still nowhere near where I would like it to be," he told reporters.

"But golf can change overnight and I am still hopeful that things can happen this week."

Other big names set to tee off on Thursday include Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.

Last year, Pooley sank a 10-foot birdie putt at the fifth extra hole to edge out Watson and become the first U.S. Open champion as a sectional qualifier.

Watson had forced the playoff with six birdies in the last 10 holes of regulation play at Caves Valley Golf Club in Baltimore, but Pooley was not to be denied.

"I still remember every single shot," said the Tucson-based professional, whose two career PGA Tour titles came at the 1980 B.C. Open and the 1987 Memorial Tournament.

Pooley is bidding to become the first man since South Africa's Player, in 1988, to win consecutive U.S. Senior Open crowns.

However, it will be an extremely tough challenge. He faces a strong field at the par-71 Inverness Club course where favourites include 1982 U.S. Masters champion Craig Stadler and 1992 U.S. Open winner Tom Kite.

Stadler, who turned 50 on June 2, has fond memories of Inverness, having won the 1973 U.S. amateur title there.

"I was just putting out of my mind," he recalled. "Everything inside 20 feet I made and I made every hole every day.

"I like my chances around here (this week). I have been driving the ball really well, my irons are good and the putter is starting to come around."

Kite also knows Inverness, having played there in two U.S. PGA Championships and one U.S. Open.

"Inverness is just a wonderful golf course," the 53-year-old said. "I'm looking forward to renewing battle with this golf course because I feel like I'm playing better now than I have shown here (in the past)."

Kite, who won 19 times on the PGA Tour, has produced three top-10 finishes on the 2003 Champions Tour, with a best placing of tied for fourth.

One notable absentee on Thursday will be 58-year-old Hale Irwin, who has a back injury.

Irishmen Christy O'Connor junior and Des Smyth are among seven European players in this week's field.


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