The English duo of Matt Briggs and Bob Cameron, Paraguay’s Angel Franco and Australian David Merriman were the only players to break par on a fiendishly tough opening day at the De Vere Club PGA Seniors Championship.
The quartet all signed for rounds of 71 over the superb Hunting Course at De Vere Slaley Hall in Hexham, England, where a stiff breeze and cold temperatures made low scoring decidedly difficult.
Franco, the eternal bridesmaid, and Cameron set the early pace in the morning, and they were later joined on one under par by Merriman and Briggs, who would have held the outright lead were it not for a double bogey on his last hole. But Briggs, who earned his place in the field after coming through a qualifying event on Monday, refused to let that disappointing finish mar what was an otherwise flawless exhibition of golf.
He said: “At least I kept the bogeys off my card – it’s just a shame I couldn’t also keep the double bogeys off my card! But the ninth is a very tough hole, so I can’t be too disappointed. And I got lucky with a couple of putts earlier in the round, so it probably evened itself out in the end. I just played sensible golf all day and didn’t get ahead of myself, so it was nice to find a little bit of form because it’s been a pretty disappointing season overall.
“Because of my category I’m often relying on withdrawals, so I don’t normally know until the last minute if I’m in the tournament, which doesn’t make for the best preparation. It also means I’m under more pressure to perform well when I do get into tournaments, which is maybe why I haven’t shown my best form so far. But this round was definitely a step in the right direction.”
Merriman is a more established figure on the Senior Tour, having finished inside the top 20 on the Order of Merit for the past two seasons. The man from Sydney already has two top ten finishes to his name so far this season, and could be on course for another after mixing three birdies with two bogeys in a measured display.
He said: “My short game last week was phenomenal, and today it was pretty solid again. Any time I missed the green I tended to miss it in the right place, so I was able to get up and down more often than not, and I holed a lot of five to six foot putts. The wind was pretty fierce for most of the day, so a round of 71 was pretty good going in the conditions.”
Franco has seven runner-up finishes to his name in three seasons on the European Senior Tour, including a pair in the past two editions of this week’s £250,000 event. But the 53 year old will be hoping to cure his “seconditis” after signing for a round of 71 which included a run of three successive birdies from the seventh hole.
Franco said: “I played very well today, because the conditions were tough. It was quite cold and very windy – I’m not used to this type of weather where I come from! The three birdies from the seventh hole warmed me up – I holed a long putt from 15 feet on the eighth, then hit my best tee shot of the day on the ninth to set up another birdie. So that was a good run, but the back nine wasn’t quite as good. It was disappointing to finish with a bogey on the 18th but it’s a difficult hole, so I can’t really complain too much.”
Likewise, Cameron was disinclined to complain after matching Franco’s round of 71 courtesy of four birdies and three bogeys. The 58 year old made his gains in two quickfire bursts, picking up shots at the third, fourth, 14th and 15th holes to get his quest for a third Senior Tour title off to a solid start.
Cameron said: “I’m extremely pleased with a 71, because it’s very windy and the pins were quite tough, so anything on or around par is a pretty good score. The highlight of the round was probably my par save on the second hole, which was especially important as I’d just bogeyed the first.
“I found the bunker off the tee and had to lay up short of the ditch with my second, but then hit a nice wedge to six feet and rolled in the putt. I felt pretty pleased with myself walking off the green and then went and birdied the next two holes, so that really turned things around for me. It was a bit of a struggle to get going first thing, but gradually my round got better along with the weather.”
Amongst the ten strong group one shot back on level par are Scotland’s Sandy Lyle, currently second on the Order of Merit, and England’s Carl Mason, who recently broke Tommy Horton’s record of Senior Tour victories.
Lyle notched two birdies and two bogeys on both nines, whilst Mason looked on course to continue his dominance until dropping three shots in his last five holes, with a bogey at the 14th and a double from the middle of the fairway at the 16th.