Peter Fowler’s fine run of recent form continued in the opening round of the Cleveland Golf/Srixon Scottish Senior Open as the Australian eagled the last hole for a flawless 65 to lead by two strokes at Fairmont St Andrews.
Fresh from a share of seventh place in last month’s Senior Open Championship, which followed his second victory of 2011 in the Bad Ragaz PGA Seniors Open, Fowler currently sits second on the European Senior Tour Order of Merit.
With leader Tom Watson unlikely to play in the minimum five events required to qualify for the Order of Merit, Fowler is very much the frontrunner in the race to win the John Jacobs Trophy and the 52 year old is on course for another strong performance in Scotland.
Fowler produced a stunning finish over Fairmont St Andrew’s Torrance Course, holing a huge 55ft birdie putt on the 17th before closing with a 15ft eagle putt to finish the first round seven under par, two strokes clear of American Jerry Bruner and defending champion Barry Lane.
Playing alongside former Masters Champion and World Number One Ian Woosnam and Scot Gordon Brand Jnr, Fowler said he was hoping to improve on his tied fifth place finish in the event last year.
“The game’s in pretty good shape right now and we had a perfect day here for golf,” said the 1993 BMW International Open winner. “The greens are superb and when they are like that I feel I can do well with my putting.
“The greens are a little bit softer than last year due to the rain we’ve had and the course is not as fiery. All together it’s great for playing golf and it’s a course I really enjoy. It was great playing alongside Woosie and Gordon too – they both have great swings.”
While Fowler, the only multiple winner on the Senior Tour so far in 2011, can strengthen his Order of Merit aspirations this week, he insists he is only focused on continuing to play well as he pursues his third victory of the year following the ISPS Handa Senior Masters presented by The Stapleford Forum and his win in Bad Ragaz, Switzerland.
“The Order of Merit thing is there in the background, of course, but I’m just trying to keep on working on my game,” he said. “I’ve been round long enough over the years to know you just have to go out there and play golf and let the other things take care of themself.”
Similarly second place Bruner, who fired a flawless 67, is also trying to keep in the moment after admitting that his decision to retire at the end of the 2011 has detracted from his focus so far this season.
The usually consistent American is without a top 20 finish this campaign and is 66th on the Order of Merit but as he looking for a dazzling finale to his 13 year stint on the Senior Tour.
“I’ve been letting everyone know that I’m retiring at the end of the season and I think I became a little too involved with that,” he said. “I’ve been going through the motions and I spoke to a friend who told me I need to keep playing until the end of the year and worry about next year then.
“I’ve had a bit of an attitude change since that phone call and it has worked. Now I know what I have to do again this year and I feel like my old self. I wasn’t getting in a bad mood if I shot a bad round or hit a bad shot but I am now and it’s like I used to be.
“I’ve had a great time on the Senior Tour over the past 13 years, seeing the world and meeting some great people but I’ve had enough now. It would be nice to go out with a bang and that’s what I’m trying to do here.”
Bruner also credited his change in fortune to some hard work on his putting, which resulted in a spectacular showing on the greens in Scotland as his round ignited with three birdies in a row from the eighth hole and further shots picked up on the 14th and 15th holes.
“I sank five putts of more than 12ft today so I was very happy with my putter,” said Bruner. “I did a lot of work back in Los Angeles during the break and it’s feeling really good.”
Former Ryder Cup player Lane is tied in second with Bruner after a 67 that included six birdies and just the one bogey on the seventh hole.
Lane’s four stroke victory last year – his maiden Senior Tour title – came 22 years after he also captured his first European Tour title in Scotland, winning the 1988 Scottish Open.
Like Fowler, Lane has been in a rich vein of form, finishing as leading European in The Senior Open Championship in fifth place, with top 20 finishes either side of that on The European Tour in Scotland and Ireland.
Five players are tied for fourth place on three under par, including Englishman Gary Wolstenholme who leads the race for the Senior Tour Rookie of the Year, while Woosnam is a shot further back in tied ninth on two under par after a 70.
Another former Ryder Cup Captain, Sam Torrance, who helped redesign the Fairmont St Andrews Course, is level par after the first round, while fellow Scot Sandy Lyle, who is making his debut in the event, opened with a two over par 74.