England’s Carl Mason put himself into contention to equal his compatriot Tommy Horton’s record of 23 European Senior Tour wins with an opening round of 64 to lead the Bad Ragaz PGA Seniors Open.
Mason, who currently has 22 titles to his name in a glittering Senior Tour career, is a master of Golf Club Bad Ragaz in the Swiss Alps, having triumphed there in 2007 and 2008.
And the 57 year old, who recently passed the €2million mark in Senior Tour career earnings, is in pole position to complete a hat-trick of victories after compiling eight birdies to finish on six under par, one stroke ahead of Thailand’s Boonchu Ruangkit and England’s David J Russell.
That duo are themselves in fine form, with Ruangkit the runaway leader of the Order of Merit after three victories, and Russell having arrived in Switzerland on the back of capturing his maiden Senior Tour title at last week’s De Vere Collection PGA Seniors Championship. But even they may have to play second fiddle to Mason, whose only bogeys of the day came at the 12th and 14th holes.
He said: “I had a decent last round last week, so I came here with a bit of a spring in my step. But I’m always pretty confident when I play here anyway, because I’ve obviously got a good record here in the past. At the start of the season when the schedule comes out, this event is always one I think I should be contending in. The course just suits my game, and I feel particularly comfortable on the greens. Other than a bit of a wobble in the middle of the back nine, I played pretty well.
“But I’m not thinking about the win yet, because there’s an awful lot of golf still to be played. Obviously it’d be great to equal and then hopefully one day beat Tommy’s record, but I’m not going to put too much pressure on myself. If it happens here this week, then great. All I’m thinking about at the moment is going for a swim in the pool, because it’s so hot – the only stroke I’ll be practising this afternoon is my breast stroke!”
Russell’s round began in unfortunate fashion, with a bogey on the first hole. But he cancelled that out with a birdie on the eighth hole, and added a further five after the turn to come home in just 30.
He said: “Obviously it wasn’t an ideal start, but after my win last week I’ve got a lot more confidence. Whereas perhaps in the past I might’ve got a bit down on myself, now I’m happy to keep plodding along and waiting for the birdies to arrive. I had to be patient on the front nine, but after the turn my putter got going and that made all the difference. With a lot of wedge shots with your approach shots here, it normally comes down to whoever putts the best.
“I’ll have to play very well to beat Carl, because this course was tailor-made for his game. And Boonchu’s obviously playing very well this season, so I’ve got some stiff competition. But now that I’ve got the win under my belt, hopefully it’ll help me to relax more. I’m just happy and a little surprised I was able to play as well as I did today, because we had quite a celebration two nights ago!”
In contrast to that of Russell, Ruangkit’s round exploded into life with successive birdies on his first two holes. He would have to wait until the 12th hole to pick up his next shot, but consecutive birdies on his final two holes have given the Thai ace a chance of becoming only the fourth player in Senior Tour history – after Horton, Mason and Sam Torrance – to capture four titles in a single season.