England's Denis Durnian made a great start to his quest to move to the top of the European Seniors Tour Order of Merit when he opened with a six under par 66 during the first round of the Tunisian Seniors Open at El Kantaoui GC.
Durnian, 51, from Manchester, who came into the Tunisian event in second place on the Seniors Tour Order of Merit, but who can overhaul the absent money leader, Ian Stanley, if he wins the £16,660 first prize on offer here, chipped in twice on his way to finishing his round one shot ahead of Brazil's Priscillo Diniz and America's Bob Lendzion.
England's Jim Rhodes and Canada's John Irwin were one shot further back on 68, with Scotland's John Chillas, the club professional at Glenbervie and the current Scottish PGA champion, joining Italy's Renato Campagnoli, New Zealand's Simon Owen and Australians David Good and Noel Ratcliffe in a share of sixth place on 69.
Another Scot, Mike Miller, the European Seniors Tour rookie who was tied for third place at the recent Dan Technology Seniors Tournament of Champions at Mere G & CC, went round in two under par 70 to claim a share of eleventh place with Australia's Randall Vines, Canada's Glenn MacDonald, America's Jay Horton and Wales's Lawrence Farmer.
"I played well and I also got the breaks when I needed them," admitted Durnian. "I have been struggling a bit for the last few weeks but I decided to try to relax a bit this morning and that seemed to do the trick."
"The problem is that I have been thinking too much about trying to qualify for next month's Warburg Cup match against the Americans. I knew that a top two finish on our Order of Merit would gain me an automatic place in that match and I admit that I have been focusing too much on that rather than concentrating on my own golf."
Durnian made the best possible start when he chipped in for a birdie from behind the green on the 376 yard par four first hole. He went on to produce further birdies at the fifth, seventh and eighth before chipping in for a second time at the 535 yard par five 11th. Thereafter he added three other birdies at the 13th, 16th and 17th but also dropped his only shots of the day at the 14th and the 18th.
"I did let a couple of shots go towards the end of the round but I can't complain too much about that," said the Englishman.
"I came here hoping to jump ahead of Ian (Stanley) and solidify my place in the Warburg Cup match and if I can keep this sort of form up there is no reason why I can't do both."
This year’s Tunisian Seniors Open is also an important event for Chillas, who is making only his fourth European Seniors Tour appearance here after turning 50 at the end of July.
To date, the Scot has achieved two top ten finishes but needs to earn about £10,000 if he is to avoid having to go to this year’s European Seniors Tour Qualifying School in Portugal.
“When I first came out here I knew it would be difficult to earn a Card without going to the school but I have seen Russell (Weir) do it and that has got to be my goal.
“That said, even if I don’t make it, it has still been a good learning experience. It is tough out here but, having got a couple of top tens under my belt, I know I can compete as, and when, I get card.”
Chillas opened with a fine three under par 69, helped by the fact that he has been a regular visitor to El Kantaoui for the last 13 years.
“I coach the golf team at Stirling University and we have been coming down here each winter for longer than I would care to remember. It’s a great facility and I’d like to think my knowledge of the course will help out a bit.
Spaniard, Antonio, who won the 1982 Tunisian Open at Kantaoui, fared less well. Returning to the scene of one of his five European Tour wins, he recorded a one over par 73 to be languishing in 33rd place.