England's Steve Wild, an industrial painter by trade, whose company is currently working on a lucrative contract at the Treasury, made a dream start to his quest to win the richest first prize in the European Seniors Tour's history when he opened with a two under par 67 in windy conditions during the first round of the inaugural Wales Seniors Open at Royal St David's in Harlech.
Wild, a country member at the Royal St David's club and a former winner of its prestigious St David's Gold Cross open amateur tournament, goes into the second round one shot ahead of Scotland's Gordon MacDonald and Ireland's Paul Leonard who both returned one under par 68s.
America's Bob Lendzion and Englishmen, Jim Rhodes and Graham Burroughs, share fourth place in the race to claim the record £83,320 first prize after carding level par 69s.
Wild, a former Staffordshire county player, has been a member at Royal St David's for 27 years and feels sure that local knowledge helped him a great deal during an opening round in which the north east wind was a constant factor.
"I have no doubt that it did help me," said the man whose previous best finish at a Seniors Tour event came when he finished second in the 1997 Manadens Affarers Seniors Open in Sweden. "The fact that I know the course so well does give me an advantage over the other competitors but I'd like to think I got just as much benefit from the fact that I love the place so much.
"I love difficult golf courses and St David's certainly comes into that category. It might have a par of 69 but the amateurs play it to a standard scratch score of 72 and that gives a much better indication of the difficulties involved."
Leonard, from Cookstown, Northern Ireland, whose sole win on the Seniors Tour came when he won the 1998 Efteling European Trophy, is Wild's nearest challenger but he could have held the lead himself were it not for the fact that he dropped shots at the 324 yard 16th and the 427 yard 17th.
"It was a disappointing way to finish but, to be honest, I would have taken a 68 before I started. Any time you get round in under par here, you know you've played some excellent golf."
MacDonald, a former Scottish amateur international from Callander, was one of the early starters and he made his move when the birdied the 481 yard par-5 7th and the 173 yard par-3 9th to go out in two under par 34. He did drop a shot when he drove into the fairway bunker at the 427 yard par-4 17th but parred the last for his best round on this season's Seniors circuit.
"Last week at the PGA Seniors Championship at Carden Park I had one triple bogey and three double bogeys," he said. "The idea here was to try to cut out that sort of disaster and it worked very well. I played very solidly and didn't give myself too many problems."
Altogether, a total of 22 golfers finished within four shot of the lead after the opening round of a tournament established as part of Wales’ vigorous bid to earn the right to stage the 2009 Ryder Cup.
Last week’s winner, Australian Ian Stanley, the current No. 1 on the European Seniors Tour Order of Merit, was tied for 7th place on 70 alongside compatriot Geoff Parslow, South Africa’s Bobby Verwey, Ireland’s Denis O’Sullivan, New Zealand’s Simon Owen and Scotland’s Bernard Gallacher.
John Grace, Ray Carrasco, Peter Dawson, David Vaughan, Lawrence Farmer, Jay Horton, Manuel Sanchez, Bill Hardwick, Hank Woodrome and Keith MacDonald were tied for 13th place after 71s but it was a different story for England’s Tommy Horton, who headed the money list five times between 1993 and 1999.
Horton, who turns 60 next week and is concurrently enduring his worst ever start to a European Seniors Tour season, slumped to a seven over par 76 and is languishing in 67th place
It was also a bad day for Welsh veteran, Brian Huggett, one of the leading lights in the establishment of this tournament. He went round in eight over par 77 and is now in serious danger of missing the cut at his own national Seniors championship.
Australia’s Richard Beer was disqualified after discovering he had signed for a wrong score on the 17th hole.