Japan's Noboru Sugai put the big names in the shade when he carded a four under par 67 to take a one shot lead into the second round of the Senior British Open, presented by MasterCard, at Royal Co. Down, Newcastle, Northern Ireland. But, hot on his heels is the ominous figure of five-time Open champion, Tom Watson, who carded a one under par 70 to finish the round just three shots behind.
Watson started out as tournament favourite and quickly got into his stride with a spectacular eagle down the 522 yard par five first hole. However, he gave a shot back on the 371 yard par four second hole and after that never really felt comfortable again.
"It was one of those days," said the American, who went out in one under par 34 and home in level par 36.
"Most of my shots were a bit off. It's annoying because I felt the golf course was there for the taking. When we went out, the wind wasn't blowing all that hard. It was very benign by Royal Co. Down standards so I feel as if I have let an opportunity slip."
Tournament leader, Sugai, had no such problems on a day in which just six members of the 132-man field managed to beat Royal Co. Down's exacting par of 71.
Sugai, 52, has won four times on the Japan PGA Tour and three times on the Japan Senior Tour but has done little of note outside his own country. Yesterday, however, helped by his caddie, local member Fergus MacFerran, he opened with two birdies on his first two holes and never looked back after that. He went out in 32 after another birdie on the 425 yard par four ninth, dropped a shot on the tenth but then recorded further birdies on the 203 yard 14th and the 375 yard 17th.
"The key was good putting and good approach shots," the Japanese golfer said. "I like this course. Two years ago, on my first visit, I finished 18th and I have felt very comfortable ever since."
Heading into the second round, Sugai's nearest rival is Scotland's Russell Weir, the club pro at Cowal, who opened with a fine three under par 68.
Weir's round began with a bang when he holed out from seven feet for an eagle on the 522 yard par five first hole. He also posted two other birdies on the 194 yard fourth and the 145 yard seventh before playing the remaining eleven holes in level par.
"That's a very nice start," said Weir. "Two weeks ago, at the Mobile Cup, Martin Foster told me that I was picking up the putter on my backswing so I concentrated on taking it back low and slow and it seemed to do the trick.
"I haven't been playing all that well this season but that was much better out there today."
As it transpired, it was a good day for the strong Scottish contingent with Glenbervie club pro, John Chillas and former Hayston amateur, Peter Kerr, sharing third place on 69.
England's Tony Allen, from Maxstoke Park, shared fifth place alongside Watson on 70 and John Bland, Ray Carrasco, Dan Halldorson, Martin Foster, John Irwin, John McTear and Barry Vivian all carded level par 71s.
Chillas, who like Watson is making his debut in this championship, birdied the first and then played solid golf after that. He briefly dropped back to level par with a bogey at the 197 yard tenth hole but moved to two under with further birdies on the 479 yard 12th and the 528 yard 18th.
Peter Kerr was the surprise package at the top of the leaderboard. This former amateur from the Hayston club near Glasgow only turned pro after qualifying for last year's Seniors Tour Qualifying School in Portugal but played like a man who has been around the tournament scene for years.
Kerr went out in level par 35 and then briefly went to three under par after birdies at the 10th, 12th and 14th before dropping a shot at the 450 yard par four 15th.
"I loved every minute of it out there," he said minutes after finishing. "It was always my ambition to turn pro and it's days like these that make me realise what I have been missing all these years.
Ireland's Christy O'Connor made a disappointing start to his attempt to win what would be his third successive Senior British Open title.
O'Connor won the championship in both 1999 and 2000 but had to miss last year's event after breaking his ankle in a freak motorbike accident at the start of 2001. Now fully recovered, he could only post a disappointing two over par 73 that included three putts from seven feet on the last.
The Irishman's problems started when he pulled a nine iron through the back of this treacherous 528 yard par five hole. He gained relief from a grandstand but then needed four more to get down after that.
"It was a horrible way to finish," said O'Connor. "I have got to admit that I am mad at myself. I played superbly but my putting was filthy. I'm going to have to go home and given myself a bit of a talking to."
Tony Jacklin had to endure several such nightmares in a hugely disappointing round of 81.
The former Open and US Open champion started with a birdie on the 522 yard par five first hole but then carded nine bogeys and a double bogey after that.
Defending champion, Ian Stanley, recorded a four over par 75 that included a disappointing bogey six on the 528 yard 18th.
The Australian started with birdies at the first and the second but then came unstuck in the strong crosswind that blew over the course during the afternoon rounds.
"It's a bit disappointing but at least it is over and done with," he said. "Today, we probably got the worst of the weather but tomorrow it might be different. Who knows, you are never quite sure on a links."