Des Smyth and Malcolm MacKenzie share the first round lead in the Madeira Island Open after breaking free of the log jam at the top of the leaderboard with opening rounds of 66, six under par, over the spectacular Santo da Serra course.
MacKenzie, hoping to rid himself of the tag as one of the longest serving players on Tour without a victory as he enters his 19th season, moved to the top of the leaderboard when he holed his second shot on the 14th for an eagle. Having gambled with a driver off the tee, Mackenzie was left with a lob wedge second shot which spun back 15 feet into the centre of the hole.
He said: “It’s not really a driver off the tee but if you gamble with the driver you are left with a little lob wedge and that is what I did and holed it. Pitched on the back in the bank and spun back so there was a bit of luck involved.”
The 39-year-old, whose father Laurie found success on the football field at Sheffield Wednesday, also birdied the third, fifth ninth and 11th in a flawless display.
“I’ve had a good start to the year - the best start I’ve ever had. This year I think there is something there. I’m shooting low rounds which I haven’t done for a long time. I’ve stopped fiddling with the theory side. Just tee it up and hit it and worry in between the shot. Find the ball, hit it, find it again and hopefully get it in the hole.”
At 48, Des Smyth could be forgiven for having half an eye on the Seniors Tour but the Irishman continues to show some of the younger generation a thing or two. Seven birdies, including four in the first six holes, and just the one dropped shot earned him a share of the lead at six under.
“I got off to a great start,” he said. “That built my round. Had a good start today but it means very little until later in the tournament.
“I’m just very pleased to be out here. I played today with Johan Skold and what a good player he is. Whenever I play with these young players I am very impressed. Tremendous standards coming through. I keep playing to keep my game in as tight as shape as I can. I’ve always said if you can keep a card on our Tour you’ve played awfully good. That is all I try to do. Some people think I should have higher ambitions but they don’t play with these young players. I am well aware of how high the standards are. You have to see them hit it to see how good they are. I’m happy to keep tagging along with them.”
Skold is one of seven players on five under par after a calm day high in the mountains of Madeira. Also on five under is Phillip Walton who enjoyed the luck of the Irish from the moment he arrived at the course. First he found 500 escudos on the practice range and then, moments later, fired a three wood into the trees on his opening drive only for it to rebound back into play.
“It was my lucky day,” he said after his first competitive round of the year. “Three wood was totally the wrong club on the first. I was half asleep. In the end it was a great four.”
Walton went on from there to pick up five birdies in a bogey free round.
John Bickerton, back in action after a bout of gastro-enteritis forced him to withdraw from Qatar last week, also shot a 67 as did fellow Englisham Philip Golding. 1998 US Amateur Champion Hank Kuehne was also on five under, all his five birdies coming from within four feet. Kalle Brink and Andrew Oldcorn complete the group on five under par.