A stunning seven birdies on the back nine sent Des Smyth soaring to the top of the leaderboard as the Irishman carded a seven under par opening round 65 in the inaugural Cannes Mougins Masters.
After dropping a shot on the first hole when he drove it into the bunker, Smyth picked up a shot on the third for a steady level par front nine of 36 before igniting his round with five successive birdies immediately after the turn at Cannes Mougins.
He then picked up further shots on the 16th and 17th to come home in 29 and take a two stroke lead over Peter Mitchell, with English pair Mark Belsham and Nick Job, Scotland’s Gordon Brand Jnr and Japan’s Katsuyoshi Tomori a further stroke back.
“I was thrilled with my back nine,” said Smyth. “That was one serious back nine. I actually hit the hole from 12ft on the last too so I had a putt for 28, which I was delighted about.
“It’s as good a back nine as I can remember. Although I’ve done it before I don’t recall breaking 30 too often so I’m delighted. I’m really thrilled to play so well.”
Smyth is looking for his second victory of the season following his win in the Travis Perkins plc Senior Masters last month and he admits that his first title since 2007 has given him a massive boost.
“It has to give you confidence,” he said. “Since then I’ve made a few changes with my iron play. I grafted really hard to win and I wasn’t on top of my iron play so I’ve made a few changes to improve that and I hit a lot of good irons today.
“I’m standing closer to the ball and swinging up and down the line and swinging a bit taller. I’m consciously trying to do that and it worked. Last year I wasn’t happy with my game and I felt this year would be better after a rest from six years in America and it has turned out that way.”
Englishman Mitchell, who is currently languishing in 33rd place in the Order of Merit, had an eagle three on the par five eighth hole and four birdies in his round of 67 as he looks to end the season strongly.
His compatriot Job attributed his flawless opening round 68 to changes he has made to his putter, as he made five birdies without dropping a shot.
“I’ve just gone on to the long putter and that made a huge difference today,” said Job. “I wasn’t holing enough putts. I tried the belly putter and now I’ve gone onto the long putter and I’m holing some good putts with it.
“It takes a bit of getting used to as I’d been 60 odd years with the two handed putter but it is working quite well. It’s such a lovely roll. Carl Mason has taught me how to use it and given me insight. It’s an intricate thing and I’ve watched him and Sam and it worked today.
“It’s not been a great year health-wise but this putter has made a big difference and hopefully I can have a good week.”
Belsham, who finished a career best third in the Casa Serena Open three weeks ago, made six birdies in his round of 68, while Brand Jnr posted five birdies, dropping his only shot of the day on the 13th, to join Job on four under par.
Former Ryder Cup player Brand Jnr is currently lying in sixth place in the Order of Merit after finishing runner up to Gary Wolstenholme in the previous event, the lucrative Casa Serena Open, and could strengthen his John Jacobs Trophy aspirations with victory this week.
Englishman Carl Mason, who is bidding to win a record breaking 24th Senior Tour title, is among a group of players on three under par that also includes Australian Peter Fowler, Englishman Glenn Ralph and home favourite Marc Farry, who has helped organised the Cannes Mougins Masters.
Farry said: “It was a good effort today as it was not easy. I’ve been helping with the organisation and it’s a lot of work. More than I realised.
“I didn’t have much time to work on my game as a result so I didn’t know if I would play well. I am very happy with this round though and with the way the tournament overall is going.”