Only an unfortunate bogey at the last stopped European Senior Tour rookie Colin Montgomerie from grabbing a share of the lead following an intriguing first round at the Travis Perkins plc Senior Masters at Woburn Golf Club.
The eight-time European Tour Order of Merit winning Scot played an unblemished 17 holes before failing to get up and down from in front of the green at the par four last to finish a sunny, fine first day with a four under par 68, one shot shy of Argentina’s Luis Carbonetti, the 2004 Senior Masters Champion.
Also at four under following the first round was South African Steve van Vuuren, while the trio of former Ryder Cup Captain Mark James, Ireland’s Philip Walton and Englishman Andrew Sherborne all signed off with three under par 69s for a share of fourth place heading into the weekend at Woburn.
With the Duke’s Course bathed in glorious sunshine, around 7,000 fans flocked to the venue which is this week hosting the Travis Perkins plc Senior Masters for a 13th successive edition and Montgomerie, billed as the star attraction in just his third Senior Tour appearance, did not disappoint, firing four birdies in his first six holes to reach the turn in 33.
Driving superbly all day on the often narrow, tree-lined layout, a fifth gain of the day followed at the tenth to send Montgomerie top alongside morning starter Carbonetti, but seven straight pars preceded an unlucky conclusion as he bogeyed the last after missing his first fairway of the day at the 356-yard 18th hole.
“It could have been a lot better obviously,” said a philosophical Montgomerie. “I was five under after ten and didn’t make another birdie with two reachable par fives to come and it was the relatively easy 18th that I messed up.
“But it’s safe. You don’t win here in the first round, just get into a good position to move forward and that’s what I’ve done so all-in-all I’m quite satisfied.”
Montgomerie has had some excellent performances on the Duke’s Course over the years, having finished in the top ten on four occasions at Woburn in the British Masters between 1994 and 2000 and he said his straight-hitting had paid off once again.
“I think it is a golf course that suits my eye,” he continued. “I hit most fairways and if you do that then you usually score well around here.
“The conditioning of the course is superb, I’ve played here a dozen times or more and this is the best I’ve ever seen it.”
Carbonetti, who nine years ago completed a two-shot triumph at Woburn in this tournament, played in the opening grouping of the day and negated the chilly early conditions with some accurate striking of his own to sign for a five under par 67.
The 60 year old missed only one fairway all day – at the 16th where he made his one and only bogey – while all his five birdies, including an excellent effort at the last, came from within ten feet.
He said: “I was straight down the middle all day long, it’s one of the best rounds I’ve ever had at Woburn.
“Nine years ago was by far the best tournament of my life and hopefully after that start I can hope to try to repeat that.”
Van Vuuren, meanwhile, battled through a persistent elbow injury and a wayward driver to grind out his 68 for a share of second alongside Montgomerie, one behind Carbonetti, bouncing back from two bogeys in his first four holes with five birdies in nine holes – including a hat-trick to close the front nine.
“I changed the shaft of my driver yesterday and it wasn’t going so well,” said Van Vuuren. “But fortunately the course dried out so I was able to hit my three wood more.
“I managed to hole two putts from off the green at the eighth and tenth from at least 25 feet so they were bonuses and very enjoyable.
“It’s nice to see the ball go in the hole – you see it miss too often – so it’s great to see a couple drop!”
Two-time Senior Masters winner Carl Mason is three off the lead following the opening exchanges after a two under par 70, while defending champion Des Smyth, also looking to complete a hat-trick of victories this week, struggled to find his best golf in a one over par 73.