Germany’s Bernhard Langer, the last man to win The Senior Open Championship Presented by Rolex on Scottish soil, began his bid to reclaim the title with a flawless six under par opening round 64 to establish one shot lead at Turnberry.
The former World Number One and two-time Masters Champion birdied the second, third and seventh holes before the turn and then produced an almost identical back nine, picking up further shots on the 11th, 12th and 17th holes.
“I’m very pleased with the way I played,” said Langer, who was Senior Open Champion at Carnoustie two years ago. “I played smart, played well, hit some good drives, good iron shots and made a few putts. I maybe even left a couple of putts out there, as well. But overall, it was very solid. No blemishes.”
“The only trouble really I had was the 18th. I drove it in the fairway bunker but I had checked it out in practice, that bunker is maybe the only one on the whole golf course where you have a chance to reach the green. I didn't reach the green but I got close enough to get it up and down.”
Langer, who finished in a tie for 12th in last year’s event at Walton Heath, claimed his maiden Senior Major two years ago when he completed a wire-to-wire victory at Carnoustie in 2010, a victory he described as “one of the highlights of my career”.
It was also one that propelled the ten-times Ryder Cup player onto a second Major triumph the following week when he won the US Senior Open at Sahalee Country Club, and the Anhausen man looked to have brought his fine season form to Scotland this week.
In all three of his appearances on the European Senior Tour this year Langer has finished in the top five, narrowly missing out on a third Senior Major when he surrendered a four shot lead in the final round of the US Senior Open, eventually finishing tied for second as Chapman seized his second Major title in succession at Indianwood in Michigan.
“It still hurts and it's going to hurt a while,” he reflected. “That's golf. Roger played a great round of golf and I can't take that away from him. It was my tournament to win or to lose, and I just didn't perform well enough on Sunday.
“But I took a lot of positives away from it. It was some of the best golf I've played in my whole life.”
Despite having never won an Open Championship during a glittering career that has yielded 42 European Tour titles – including his two Masters titles in 1985 and 1993 – Langer retains a good record on links courses and in the aforementioned Championship, having finished in the top ten on eight occasions, including two second place finishes at the 1981 and 1984 Opens.
Langer also finished in a tie for third when Turnberry hosted The Open in 1986 as Greg Norman stormed to his first Claret Jug, so the Ailsa has long suited the German’s eye.
He said: “It's playing very long. Someone said this course is playing longer than they played last week at The Open Championship.
“But I like links golf. It's just fun to hit off that kind of turf and you really have to think your way around some of these golf courses, not just hit driver, blast it away and find it and hit it again. That's what makes it so much fun.”
Ireland’s Mark McNulty, who opened with back-to-back birdies, is Langer’s nearest challenger following a five under par 65, while six players, including 1996 Open Champion Tom Lehman, are a shot further back on four under par.
“I kept myself out of trouble today, and that's my game plan this week, trying to strategise myself around this golf course, because as we have all seen over the years that when you play these links courses and get into these bunkers, all hell can break loose,” said McNulty.
“I was very lucky to get off to a good start, get a couple of birdies and I just played very solid.”
Tom Watson made a satisfying return to Turnberry three years after almost winning The Open Championship at the age of 59.
The American, winner of Claret Jug over the Ailsa Course in 1977 as well as The Senior Open Championship in 2003, carded a one under par opening round 69 to claim bragging rights in his mouth-watering three-ball with Englishman Roger Chapman and Australian Greg Norman.
“It was a good start,” said Watson. “The golf course was there for the taking if you played some good shots. On the back nine, I got sloppy, but the front nine I played pretty well and I was happy with the way I started.”
After winning both the US Senior PGA Championship and US Senior Open Championship already this season, Chapman began his bid for the hat-trick of Senior Majors with a two over par 72, the same as Norman who won The 1986 Open Championship over the Ailsa Course.