Brazil’s Priscillo Diniz got his defence of his SSL International Sodexho European Seniors Match Play, presented by The Daily Telegraph, title off to a great start when he defeated an ailing Russell Weir 5 & 4 during the opening round of this year's event at the Meridien Penina Golf Resort in Portugal.
Diniz, who defeated Australia's Ian Stanley 3 & 2 in last year's final, produced four birdies during the 14 holes he needed to defeat his Scottish rival, more than good enough against an incapacitated Weir who was clearly inhibited after discovering an ugly rash on the leg he broke during the 1991 European Club Professionals Championship in Holland.
The Scot fell behind when his Brazilian opponent birdied the 496 yard par five fifth hole, lost further ground when he dropped a shot at the 196 yard par three eighth and then fell five holes adrift when he lost the 10th to a birdie and the 12th and 13th to pars. In the end, the match was settled one hole later when Diniz conceded Weir’s birdie putt but then holed his own six-footer to set up an intriguing second round contest against Australia's David Good.
“I am delighted to get that one out of the way,” said Diniz, winner of this year's Royal Westmoreland Barbados Open. “I knew Russell was struggling so all I had to do was to keep him under pressure.”
"It was one of those things," said the disappointed Weir before disappearing to see a doctor. "My leg didn't hurt but it did bother me a bit because it was in the exact spot where it broke in Holland."
Stanley, the current number one on the European Tour Seniors Order of Merit and fresh from two weeks holiday Down Under, also progressed after defeating America’s Jay Horton 3 & 1 but the best figures of the day were produced by his compatriot, Good, who recorded six birdies in the 13 holes he needed to demolish the luckless Englishman, Maurice Bembridge 6 & 5.
There were also comfortable wins for Jim Rhodes, Denis O'Sullivan, David Oakley, Jeff Van Wagenen and Jerry Bruner but the same cannot be said for England’s Tommy Horton who was five up after nine holes against South Africa’s Bobby Verwey but who did not finally close out his match until Verwey conceded on the final hole.
Horton, who won the European Seniors Tour Order of Merit five times between 1993 and 1999, was an almost unrecognisable figure on the Penina greens. For the first time for over ten years, he chose not to use a broomhandle putter but it will not be an experiment he repeats when he faces Oakley in the second round.
“It was terrible,” he said. “I haven’t been putting well with my long putter but I have been nowhere near as bad as I was today.
“I was so nervous I could hardly stand over the short ones. I missed three or four putts from under three feet but the way I felt it could have been a lot more.”
Denis Durnian, currently number two on European Seniors Tour Order of Merit, looked as if he would lose ground to the leader, Stanley, when he boarded the 17th tee one down against Northern Ireland’s Eddie Polland but he got back to level when Polland bogeyed the 17th and then won his match with a miraculous 220 yard five wood that curled round some tall trees and set up a winning birdie on the final hole.
Durnian progresses to a second round encounter with America’s Jerry Bruner but there was no such luck for number three on the Order of Merit, Australia’s Noel Ratcliffe who was defeated 2 & 1 by English left-hander, Peter Dawson, who now goes through to face Jeff Van Wagenen.
American, Van Wagenen, the winner of last year’s Tui Championships in Germany, was in irresistible form, requiring a mere 18 putts in the 15 holes he needed to overwhelm New Zealand’s Barry Vivian.
England’s Pete Cowen, a recipient of a special invite into this event, lost at the first hurdle in his first competitive outing since 1992. Cowen, best known as being coach to Lee Westwood, Ian Woosnam, David Howell and several other European Tour stars, lost 4 & 3 to Jim Rhodes.
“It’s a lot different looking at things from this side of the fence,” he said.