Chris Hunsucker led the way on day one of the European Senior Tour Qualifying School’s Final Stage with a five under par round of 66 at Pestana Golf Resort’s Vale da Pinta course.
The American made five birdies in an excellent bogey-free round to continue his enjoyable stay in Portugal, having made it through First Stage of Qualifying School last week on countback.
The 50 year old – who stopped playing the game for over a decade as he raised his children – was very pleased with how he had started his bid to win one of the five Senior Tour cards on offer this week.
“I love it here in Portgual, it’s a beautiful place,” he said. “It’s my first time over here, first time at Qualifying School, so I’m really enjoying it so far.
“I played really solid. I hit 16 greens and two fringes and made five birdies, no bogeys, so I played well – I struck the ball really solid so I’m very pleased.
“Last week I was hitting the ball well also, on the first day I hit 15 greens but struggled with my putting and shot three over. The second day I played a lot better, but I struggled a little bit.
“I stopped playing competitive golf in around 2000 and I really didn’t play for ten or 11 years. I have a middle son who is in love with the game so I started playing and practising more as I approached 50 and thought I may as well play a few tournaments. Lincoln Heritage Insurance sponsored me and allowed me to start playing competitive golf again, and here I am.
“I never fell out of love with the game, I was starting a family and my kids were young so I was taking care of them – I was teaching a little golf here and there but basically just spending time with the family.
“I played maybe two rounds a year for ten years, so it was tough to shake off the rust – and the weight! I’ve still got a way to go there I think.
“It’s always nice to get off to a good start but it’s four days, and I’ve been there plenty of times to know there’s still a long way to go, but it’s pleasing to be there just now.”
Ireland’s Brendan McGovern is his closest challenger, one shot back on four under par, while another American Clark Dennis sits in a tie for third after an opening 68 continued his fine form in the Algarve.
The Texan – who turns 50 later this month – took a convincing victory in First Stage at Gramacho last week and is happy with the form he has found on his trip to Portugal.
“I felt comfortable out there,” he said. “I played very solid last week and played just as well today as I did last week, just missed a few putts, but this is a long tournament and you’ve just got to stick to the process and it should work.
“I always wanted to play in Europe. I’ve played a few events – some Scottish Opens, the odd European Tour event here and there – but I’ve always enjoyed it so I thought it would just be fun.
“It’s always nice to win. To play that well last week gave me some confidence and hopefully if I can continue on this form I’ll be back over here for a full season.”
Alongside Dennis on three under par is his playing partner for the opening two rounds Magnus P Atlevi, the Swede who missed out on his card by one shot at Q-School 12 months ago.
Under still blue skies, the Vale da Pinta course offered up a stern challenge, with only 14 players under par for their first round.