American Charlie Bolling fired a sizzling seven under par opening round 64 at Pestana Golf Resort to set the pace at the European Senior Tour Qualifying School Final Stage in Portugal.
Bolling carded five birdies and an eagle three on the 12th hole to make a flawless start to his bid to secure a card for the 2012 Senior Tour season, ending the first round of the 72 hole qualifier three shots clear of compatriot Dick Mast.
The 54 year old, who won the South African Open in 1983, has been working as a club professional in Long Island, New York, for the last 17 years but recently lost his job and is hoping to resurrect his playing career.
After progressing from first stage at Vila Sol last week, Bolling opened with a birdie on the second hole and picked up further shots on the sixth and seventh before sinking a 30ft eagle putt on the 12th. He then closed with back-to-back birdies on the 17th and 18th holes to set a new course record at Vale da Pinta.
“I played solid and just hit it well all day,” said Bolling. “I played well last week but I got into some trouble on the last nine holes otherwise I would have qualified pretty easily. It was good experience and I’m feeling good but there is a long way to go.
“I hit my iron greats. My caddie talked me into hitting a much different club off the tee to what I was going to hit. I took hybrid off both leaving a longer shot in but we decided to try to keep hitting greens in regulation. I think I only missed three greens in regulations but I got up and down on them all.”
Bolling is hoping to follow the example of compatriot Tim Thelen, who won the last staging of the Senior Tour Qualifying School in November 2010 to gain his card and went on to finish 24th on the 2011 Order of Merit.
“I tried out for the US Champions Tour at the end of last year when I lost my job but I wasn’t ready as I worked all of last summer,” said Bolling.
“This is an opportunity for me to do something and I have a ten year old and a 12 year old so it is chance for me to show them Europe in the summer. That’s my goal.”
Mast, who led the qualifiers from First Stage at Gramacho, continued his momentum by birdieing the first four holes at Vale da Pinta after starting on the tenth tee.
He also picked up shots on the 16th and 18th holes before the turn and the eighth on his back nine but three putted the 15th and seventh and hit his tee shot out of bounds on the first to card three bogeys.
Mast, who finished third in The 2006 Senior Open Championship at Turnberry, was happy with his start but felt he could have been closer to Bolling’s target had it not been for those mistakes.
“I came close to breaking loose there today,” said Mast. “I’ve been playing pretty well the last couple of months and been threatening to take it deep. I could have done that today. Things were going my way but I had some unforced errors, particularly with speed on the greens.”
Another American, JC Anderson, carded three consecutive birdies after the turn to sign for a 68. He is in a share of third place with Canadian Rick Gibson and Australian Tim Elliott.
Two Senior Tour champions, five-time winner Delroy Cambridge and former Scottish Senior Open winner Glenn Ralph, are a further shot back on two under par after opening rounds of 69 as they look to regain their cards for 2012.