America’s David Oakley carded a six under par 66 to open a one shot lead over compatriot Bob Lendzion after the first round of the Bovis Lend Lease European Seniors Masters over the Duke's course at Woburn G & CC. But, just behind them, Ireland’s Eamonn Darcy goes into the second round in a share of third place with England’s John Morgan after both men returned four under par rounds of 68.
Another Irishman, Joe McDermott, carded a 69 to share fifth place with Jamaica’s Delroy Cambridge, while Scotland's David Huish, England's Steve Wild and three Australian's, David Good, Brian Jones and Ross Metherell all tied in seventh place on 70.
Darcy was plagued by back problems when he finished tied for 47th place in his Seniors Tour debut at the Travis Perkins Seniors Masters at Wentworth but he has subsequently had a cortisone injection and is now moving much more freely.
The Irishman warmed up for the Bovis Lend Lease event by shooting nine under par in the pre-tournament pro-am and he could have recorded something similar 24 hours later but for a couple of errant shots round the greens.
Darcy went out in two under par 33 after birdies at the fourth, fifth, eighth and ninth and a bogeys on the third and the seventh. He dropped his third shot of the day on the tenth but then stormed home with further birdies at the 13th, 15th and 16th.
""I am pleased with that," said the Irishman who won four times on the European Tour and represented Europe in four Ryder Cups.
"My golf was a little bit scrappy at times but I suppose you have to expect that because I haven't been able to play much golf since Wentworth.
"My back caused me a lot of trouble for a couple of weeks but I had a cortisone injection last week that has helped a lot.
"It isn't perfect but it is a lot better," he added. "I just hope it holds out because I would love to show people what I can do."
Darcy will go into the second round two shots behind Oakley, who has won four times on the Seniors Tour but whose best finish to date this season is a tie for sixth at the Mobile Cup at the Stoke Park Club near London.
The American started brightly with birdies at the second and the fifth before dropping his only shot of the day when he missed the green on the 456 yard par four seventh. He bounced back with another birdie on the 409 yard par four eighth and then stormed home with four more birdies on the 11th, 14th, 17th and 18th.
"I hit the ball great today," said the former furniture store manager from Orlando, Florida. "I only missed one green and I holed a lot of good putts as well.
"I have felt that I have been playing pretty well for the last few weeks without really getting much out of it. But today was a lot better. Hopefully I can keep it up for the next two days."
Lendzion, in contrast has struggled for most of the season. Back in 1998 he did win the Beko Classic in Turkey but this season his best finish to date has been a tie for sixth at the AIB Irish Seniors Open at Adare Manor.
He started strongly when he birdied the treacherous 514 yard opening hole from ten feet and then added another birdie on 134 yard par three third. He dropped a shot in the fourth but then birdied the fifth and the sixth to go out in 32 before coming home in two under par 35.
“I have been struggling for a while but today was much better,” said the American. “I started out trying to make some swing changes but they just didn’t work out. For a while, I tried to draw the ball but now I have gone back to a fade and it feels much more comfortable.
“This has been the first bright spot for a while.”
John Morgan came into the event having posted four top-ten finishes in his last four starts and he continued that rich vein of form with a 68 that included five birdies and just one dropped shot on the 13th.
The Englishman, who has won eight Seniors Tour titles, but none since 1999, opened strongly with birdies on the first, second and fourth. He added a fourth birdie of the day at the 409 yard par four eighth to go out in 31 and also birdied the 11th coming home.
“I have been pretty well for the last few weeks,” said Morgan, “but not quite well enough to win. But it’s in the offing. I’ve got a bit of a hurdle to get over if I’m going to win again but this would be a great place to do it because it’s such a good course.”
It was a mixed day for some of the bigger names in the field. England's Neil Coles and Japan's Seiji Ebihara both carded one under par 71s but Christy O'Connor Jnr posted a 73 and Bernard Gallacher and Tony Jacklin could do no better than 75 and 77 respectively.
The shot of the day came from Ireland's Liam Higgins who holed a six iron from 206 yards for an albatross two on the 505 yard par five 11th hole. The Irish went on to record a level par 72.