Jeff Van Wagenen led an impressive American charge during the first round of the Tui Seniors Golf Championship at the new Fleesensee Golf and Country Club in northern Germany.
Van Wagenen, 52, a long hitter from Pasadena, California, opened with a six under par 67 to be one shot clear of compatriot, Jay Horton, and two strokes in front of another American, Pat Kaylor and Australia’s Noel Ratcliffe.
Further down the list, America’s David Ojala, Canada’s John Irwin, Australia’s Ross Metherell and England’s Nick Job shared fourth place on three under par 70 and four other Americans, John Grace, Tony Peterson, Kurt Cox and Skip Pratt were tied on 71 in a large group that also included England’s Tommy Horton, Jim Rhodes and Brian Waites and Northern Ireland’s Eddie Polland.
“It was a good round of golf,” said Van Wagenen who bogeyed his opening hole but then fired seven birdies thereafter.
“I have been hitting the ball well for the last four or five weeks without getting the results. But today was different. I missed a couple of putts early on but then holed some good ones and that made all the difference.”
Van Wagenen, who, prior to joining the Seniors Tour, once owned a company that was the world’s third largest manufacturer of taps, is hoping to emulate compatriot, John Grace who has emerged victorious at two out of the last three European Seniors Tour events.
Grace won The Belfry PGA Seniors Championship three weeks ago and then added the Ordina Legends in Golf title in Holland last week after Ratcliffe had won the intervening Scotsman Scottish Seniors Open at Dalmahoy in Edinburgh.
“It gave all us Americans a boost when John won those two titles”, said Van Wagenen. “Now we are all trying to do the same as him.”
Grace is currently No. 2 on the Seniors Tour money list, less than 2,500 euro behind leader, Christy O’Connor Jnr, but with the Irishman competing on the American Senior circuit he stands a good chance of becoming the first American to finish the season as No. 1.
With six events remaining, Grace’s biggest challenge might come from Horton, winner of the last four consecutive Seniors Tour money titles.
Horton started the season with a win in the opening Royal Westmorland Seniors Open in Barbados but has since slipped to sixth place on the money list.
“I didn’t play well for a while but, slowly but surely my game seems to be coming back. Now, all I need is to hole a few more putts.
“It has been so frustrating,” he added. “I’m trying like hell but they don’t seem to want to drop. But I’ll keep going. I desperately want to finish No. 1 again but I will have to hole a lot more putts for me to do it.”
Heading into the Fleesensse event, Horton had accumulated 97,198 euro, 10,000 euro less than Grace and 12,000 euro behind O’Connor.