Friday, 19 March 2010
Ireland's Christy O'Connor Jnr lived up to his billing as the firm tournament favourite when he fired a two under par 67 to claim a share of the lead after the first round of the Wales Seniors Open at Royal St David's in Harlech.

The Irish Ryder Cup star goes into the second round tied alongside America's Jay Horton and one ahead of an international quartet comprising the defending champion Denis Durnian, Japan's Seiji Ebihara, Australia's Noel Ratcliffe and England's Nick Job.

Former Open and US Open champion, Tony Jacklin, deighted his large gallery by posting a fine level par 69. He shares seventh place with England's John Morgan and America's Steve Stull, the winner of the recent Tobago Plantations Seniors Open.

O'Connor Jnr got off to the best possible start when he opened with birdies on his first two holes. He dropped shots at both the par four third and the par three fourth but then got back to two under par with birdies at the seventh and the tenth before closing his round with eight consecutive pars.

"It was tough out there," said the former Senior British Open champion. "I played well but it was all a bit of a struggle.

"I have to admit I'm tired," he added. "I have played for the last seven consecutive weeks and it's starting to get on top of me. I was going to go back to the States after this tournament but I've changed my mind. Instead, I'm going to go home and rest until next month's Senior British Open.”

Jay Horton is proving himself to be something of a Royal St David's course specialist. Last year, he had his biggest pay day to date when he won £55,550 for finishing second behind Durnian and this year he was rarely in trouble as he compiled a solid round that included an inward half of two under par 31.

"I love it out here," he said. "I hadn't played any links golf until I joined the Seniors Tour in 1999 but I soon learned that the secret is to keep it on the short stuff and hole some putts.

"That's pretty much what I did today," he added. "This morning I was looking forward to going out. I have a lot of good memories from last year. It was like going out to meet an old friend."

Durnian, who claimed his first Seniors Tour title when won at St David's twelve months ago, admitted to having to overcome a bout of nervousness standing on the first tee.

The Manchester-based pro posted had never defended a title before but he soon got into the groove. He posted four birdies in an outward half of 33 but then dropped two shots as the wind freshened as the afternoon wore on.

"I'm very happy with that," he said. "I hit my irons nicely and I putted well too. The only problem I had was with my driver and that hurt me a bit hitting into the wind.

"But it's a good start," he added. " Last year, when I won, I started with a 74 so I can hardly complain having beaten that by six shots. Now the secret is to do just as well over the weekend."

Jacklin best performance to date on this year's Seniors Tour was a 12th place finish in Tobago but he believes he is getting nearer to the sort of form that would bring him his first Seniors Tour success.

"It feels pretty good," he said "I was a bit uncomfortable when I started but I held things together and then hit the ball nicely coming home.

"I'm starting to enjoy my golf but I'm under no illusions about how difficult it would be to win here," he added.

"Christy has got to be the favourite. He loves this sort of links golf. It was what he was weaned on after all."

Welshman, Brian Huggett, the hero of the home fans, carded a four over par 73 to share 33rd place.

The 64 year old former Ryder Cup player, who was making just his second appearance of the 2002 Seniors Tour season, hit a lot of good shots but was not able to match the target he had set for the round.

"I would have been quite happy with a 72 but I bogeyed the last so I didn't quite make it," he said.

"It's a shame but I don't suppose I can complain given the amount of golf I have played over the last few months."

"I felt a bit rusty but it's still nice to come here and see so many old friends."

Lawrence Farmer was the leading Welsh player after the first round. The club pro from Moor Park, Hertfordshire, was also making only his second start of the season but that did not stop him carding a 72 that would have been better but for a run of five bogeys over his last seven holes.

Further down the leaderboard, local Royal St David's club pro, John Barnett and David Vaughan, the pro at Vale of Llangollen, both recorded 77s.

The Wales Seniors Open is one of a series of tournaments funded as part of the succesful Wales 2010 Ryder Cup bid. The event is supported by the Welsh Development Agency, the Welsh Tourist Board and a number of other partners.

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