European Senior Tour rookie Jamie Spence took advantage of the par fives on the back nine at Fairmont St Andrews to share the first round lead with Gordon Manson, Miguel Angel Martin and Denis O’Sullivan in the SSE Scottish Senior Open.
Spence, a two-time winner on the European Tour, is playing in only his fifth event on the Senior Tour after turning 50 in May, and he used the windy conditions to his benefit to birdie the tenth, 12th and 18th holes on the way in for a four under par opening round 68.
Encouraged by his tied 14th finish in The Senior Open Championship Presented by Rolex at Royal Birkdale last month, Spence admits he is still ‘testing the water’ after six years away from the competitive game.
But there was plenty more cause for optimism for the Englishman, after he built on the foundations laid by front nine birdies on the second and fifth holes.
“I didn’t play great but I really took advantage of the par fives on the back nine,” said Spence, whose only bogey of the day came on the 15th. “The wind changed direction from the pro-am, so I got it on in two on all of the pars fives and had tap-ins for birdies. I think I can play better and probably shoot worse, so I’m happy.
“Most people can’t wait to get to 50 but I hated it. I still do. But I ‘m enjoying playing some competitive golf again and it’s nice to do well.”
Manson also birdied all of the par fives after the turn on the Torrance Course, as well as the par four 14th, dropping his only shot of the day on the 17th.
After finishing tied fourth last year and tied tenth in 2011, the Home of Golf once again appears to be bringing out the best in Manson, who was born in St Andrews but plays under the Austrian flag having lived there for nearly 30 years.
“Coming back here is great,” he said.” I’ve had a tenth place and a fourth, so it seems to suit me. I like the area obviously. I’m from here and I’ve still got family here, so it seems to inspire me when I come back. I was born in St Andrews and I visited family last night, so I feel comfortable here. I feel good in the place and relaxed, so I think it helps my game.
“I’ve been steady this season and played some good stuff. I’ve had some good rounds but I’ve just missed some putts. The odd three putt or a poor shot out of a bunker has cost me this year. But I’ve played some really good stuff and I’ve been trying to be patience. Today it came together for a good round of golf.”
With strong winds forecast for Saturday, there will be a two-tee start at Fairmont St Andrews from 7am, and the conditions could prove to the liking of Spaniard Martin, who carded five birdies in his round of 68.
“I’m happy with my form and the last few weeks I’ve played well, but not scored too well,” he said. “I finished fourth in Germany two weeks ago and I feel like I’m hitting it even better this week.
“I love playing in the wind too. I hit the ball really low so it suits my game. I’ve no problem with the wind at all. When I came here and saw it was going to be windy I hoped it would help me.”
Irishman O’Sullivan managed to keep the bogeys off his card and profited from an ‘outrageous’ chip in from 40 yards off the back of the 15th green before a birdie on the last to join the other three pacesetters on four under par.
“I’ve been playing well recently but not putting well,” he said. “I’ve been messing about with putters and on Sunday I tried one with a thicker grip and it seems to have done the trick. I didn’t three putt once today.
“When I was first on the Senior Tour the holes seemed like buckets, but the last couple of years I’ve struggled. This new putter helped me today. I saw Jason Dufner was using one in the US PGA Championship and there are few guys starting to use them.”
Another Irishman, former Ryder Cup player Eamonn Darcy, is a further shot back on three under par following a 69, and he is joined by English pair Kevin Spurgeon and Glenn Ralph, the 2009 champion, and Spaniard Santiago Luna, who eagled the last hole.
Former Ryder Cup Captain Sam Torrance, who redesigned the course at Fairmont St Andrews, signed for a round of 70 and is the joint leading Scot with Bill Longmuir in a share of ninth place alongside American Robert Thompson and 2008 champion Peter Mitchell. Swede Anders Forsbrand, the defending champion, is a further shot back after battling back from a double bogey five on the par three 11th to card a one under par 71.