By Will Pearson, europeantour.com
at Rockliffe Hall
After hitting the opening shot of the tournament on Friday morning, England’s Peter Mitchell fired a sweet 66 to lead after the first round of the English Senior Open at Rockliffe Hall – a performance he credited in part to a couple of old friends.
A little technological assistance in the build-up and some guidance from European Tour winner and Rockliffe Hall touring professional Graeme Storm helped the 55 year old Kent native to finish the day one clear of compatriot Gordon J Brand and the Spanish pair of Jose Manuel Carriles and Santiago Luna.
One shot further back after the opening exchanges was England’s David J Russell, while star rookie Steen Tinning of Denmark was amongst a four-strong group on three under par.
Following a damp start in County Durham, hosting the fifth edition of the English Senior Open after a six-year absence from the Senior Tour schedule, the skies cleared and it was in glorious sunshine that Mitchell played some red-hot golf in front of excellent galleries at the five-star Rockliffe Hall.
The four-time Senior Tour winner was almost flawless during the first round – hitting every fairway and all but one green on Friday – as six unblemished birdies and a superb up and down for par at the last secured a slim lead heading into the weekend.
“That was tip-top, really solid,” said Mitchell, who won his last event four years ago at the Casa Serena Open. “I didn’t do a lot wrong and I have to give credit to my mate Craig who owns Indoor Golf in Newcastle.
“I went up there and he got me on his Sight Scope; I’ve never been on one before and he put new shafts on for me and it’s massively helped in my iron play in getting the distances right.
“I was shocked how good they are and it’s turned things around for me. Hopefully that will stand me in good stead for the week.”
Mitchell, who splits his time between playing on the Senior Tour and his burgeoning golf academies, used to coach Rockliffe’s Storm and said watching the 2007 Open de France winner in the pro-am was beneficial.
“It was nice to see it with Stormy, I taught him for a while,” Mitchell continued. “I wouldn’t say he gave me any advice on how to play the course but it was nice to catch up with him – he’s a lovely boy and a talented golfer.
“I didn’t get a chance to play the back nine with the rain yesterday but I caught up with him playing in the pro-am so it was great to see how the course is meant to be played!”
Rookie Luna, who won the SSE Scottish Senior Open in August, finished joint runner-up in the French Riviera Masters two weeks ago and continued that fine form on Friday, carding seven birdies en route to a five under par 67, including a run of four in succession from the fourth.
“I am putting very well and I have to thank my local caddie Darren,” said Luna. “He helped me pick lots of the lines on the tricky greens and he’s a very nice guy and a good caddie too!
“I was talking with Miguel (Angel Martin) about the course yesterday and I was saying how much I liked it even though the greens are tough. I have my help with the local caddie so hopefully that will pay off!”
Luna’s countryman Carriles was one under par after 15 holes after starting at the tenth hole before a stunning run of birdie-eagle-birdie from the sixth saw him climb to within one of the lead.
He said: “I was having an okay day and then got the sixth – my 15th – which is a difficult hole for me, but I hit a great shot and holed my putt from ten feet.
“I hit my second to the par five (seventh) to a couple of feet so that was an easy eagle and then I was hot and made another birdie at my 17th so I’m very happy with how the day turned out.”
Former Ryder Cup Captain Mark James was not far off the pace following day one after a two under par 70, while invite Graeme Bell (70) was the best of the three local players contesting the £200,000 event as John Harrison and Roger Roper both signed for three over par rounds of 75.
This is the first major event the majestic Rockliffe Hall has hosted since opening its doors four years ago and chairman Warwick Brindle commented: “It has been a fantastic first day, and it has been good to see so many local people turn out to support the event.
"There are tickets still available on the gate for Saturday and Sunday and with the forecast for the weekend looking good, we anticipate welcoming many more visitors.
"Good luck to all the players, I think we have an interesting two days ahead of us."