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Tour News (posted 10th September 1998)

Warren Bennett looks for a comeback

By Mark Garrod
PA Sport Golf Correspondent

Coventry, England - One of the best golf prospects Britain has had for years and years returns to the European tour today for the first time in 14 months.

Warren Bennett makes his comeback at the British Masters at the Forest of Arden - older, wiser, fitter, wealthier and at last looking more like the player everyone hoped he would become.

The return to the circuit of the 27-year-old from Watford is for one week only thanks to a special sponsor's invitation.

But next season, buoyed by a staggering run of success on the secondary Challenge Tour in the last few months, he will be back full-time and attempting to make up for lost time.

As an amateur Bennett was outstanding, although never attracting anything like the publicity that understandably came Justin Rose's way when the 17-year-old finished fourth in the Open in July.

Bennett was British youths champion in 1992 and two years later became the first Briton to win the Australian amateur championship since the start of the century.

He was the leading amateur at the Open at Turnberry that summer and his second place in the world amateur team championship a few months later - ahead of Tiger Woods - prompted Royal and Ancient club secretary Michael Bonallack to say: "I wouldn't mind having a bet on him to win the Open in the next 10 years."

But just as Rose is discovering (the Hampshire youngster will be trying to make his first halfway cut in six attempts this week), Bennett son found out that, no matter what your record is, professional golf takes no prisoners.

He failed to come through the tour qualifying school in 1994 and 1995 and after making it third time lucky in 1996 was badly affected by a neck injury.

In nine starts last season he made only two halfway cuts and won less than 2,000. And while 14 appearances on the Challenge Tour earned him 22,260 it wasn't enough to get back on the main circuit.

"I lost a couple of sponsors as well and when the injury struck again back at the tour school and I had to pull out I was the lowest I've ever been.

"I was in a bad financial state and I just couldn't see light at the end of the tunnel."

Like Scot Gordon Sherry, another to have hopes of an early breakthrough crushed, Bennett had to return to the Challenge Tour. But, unlike Sherry, he has taken it by storm this year. His winnings of just over 70,500 are more than twice his closest rival and in a marvellous five-week spell ending last month he finished first, first, second, first and first again in successive tournaments.

"Getting fit again was the biggest thing," he said. "I've got an over-long neck - in fact, I think I'm half-man, half-giraffe! - and I twisted two vertebrae, probably through practising too hard.

"The doctors said it would take a long time because they were so messed up, but by going to the gym last winter I was able to build up the muscles around them and now I don't practice anywhere near as much.

"I've also got my brother Jason (a pro himself and Bennett's former coach) caddieing for me and that has literally taken a weight off my shoulders." He had previously been carrying his own bag or pulling a trolley at some events.

"Being able to play week-in, week-out rather than having to take a break every three weeks has enabled me to improve technically, but even so I have been surprised by how well I've done.

"Your confidence takes a bashing when you come out of amateur golf riding the crest of a wave and then things don't work out. "You hope you can stay on the crest when you turn pro, but the majority of players have to take a few steps down the ladder first. Trouble is, I fell right off."

He has sympathy for Rose's current battle to get his first tournament cheque.

"It's obviously hard for Justin at the moment, but the experience is going to toughen him up and you've just got to keep playing your game. If you're good enough you'll make it.

"It's amazing what he did as an amateur. At 17 I thought getting in the Middlesex Juniors was a result.

"I'm grateful for the invitation this week because I'd just like to see how I compare again.

"I didn't do myself justice in the few events I've played on the main tour, but I didn't see anything to scare me. Not at all."

And his goal for next year, when he takes on the stars on a regular basis once more? It's obvious really.

"To stay healthy so that I give myself a real chance this time," he replies.