Friday, 04 July 2003
England's Neil Coles, just two months short of his 69th birthday, beat his age for the first time during a glittering career when he carded a superb four under par 65 to storm into a share of the lead alongside Chile's Guillermo Encina after the first round of the Ryder Cup Wales Seniors Open at Royal St David's in Harlech.

The remarkable 68 year old Coles came into the event having equalled his age on three occasions but shaved three shots off that mark with a spectacular round that included five birdies and just one dropped shot.

The Englishman goes into second round tied with Encina and one shot ahead of Scotland's John Chillas and America's Hank Woodrome. Four other Americans, Jerry Bruner, John Grace, David Oakley and Alan Tapie, also celebrated Independence Day in style, returning 67s to share fifth place with 2001 Wales Seniors Open champion, Denis Durnian and fellow-Englishman, Ian Mosey.

Coles set a new European Seniors Tour record when he won the 2002 Lawrence Batley tournament at Huddersfield GC at the age of 67 years and 276 days. He moved one step closer to eclipsing that record with another birdie on the 427 yard par four 15th before finishing his round in spectacular fashion when he holed from 30 feet for a two on the 202 yard par three closing hole. He would be 68 and 283 days were he to collect the £75,000 winner's cheque on Sunday.

"It's a great feeling to break my age, especially having equalled it three times. There can't have been too many people have done this in competition" said The European Tour Chairman.

More than half a century after turning professional, and 42 years after his first victory on The European Tour, Coles is now aiming to defy 'Old Father Time' once more by wining a 16th European Seniors Tour title and with it the biggest prize of his illustrious career.

Coles made his first move when he hit a drive and an eight iron into 12 feet on the 378 yard par four fifth hole. He picked up two more shots with birdies at the 481 yard par five seventh and the 518 yard par five eighth before dropping his only shot of the day when he missed the green at the treacherous 218 yard par three 14th.

"That putt at the last was a bit of a bonus," admitted the man who played in eight Ryder Cups in the 1960s and the 1970s and who has since won 15 times on the Seniors Tour.

"The secret here is to keep the ball in the fairway and that's just what I did. I scored a 68 in yesterday's Pro-Am so I knew I was playing quite well. Now, I would just like to keep it going for as long as I can"

Encina, one of the Seniors Tour's longest hitters, has already posted three third place finishes this season. Now, he has a great chance to move up from sixth place on the Order of Merit after an excellent round in which he carded five birdies and dropped just one shot when he took three putts from 30 feet on the 144 yard par three 11th.

The Chilean used his length from the tee to telling effect by carding birdies on the par five seventh and the par five eighth. He also displayed a fine mastery of the art of link golf when he hit a low, running five iron into the green to set up another birdie on the 421 yard 12th hole before carding his last birdie of the day on the 354 yard 16th.

"I played very well today," said Encina. "On a day like this, when you play so well, golf is a lot of fun. I just wish it was like this every day."

Chillas, the former club professional at Glenbervie GC, came into this event in third place on the Order of Merit, having secured second place finishes at both the Tobago Plantations Seniors Classic and the De Vere Northumberand Classic. He gave himself a great chance to achieve his first Seniors Tour victory with a fine 66 that included four birdies, three bogeys and an eagle on the 481 yard seventh hole where he hit a two iron into 15 feet.

"To be honest, that is about as good a score as I could have got," admitted Chillas.

"A couple of weeks ago, when I finished second at the De Vere Northumberland Open at Slaley Hall, my swing felt great but today it was different. I seemed to be fighting it all day. I hit a lot of good shots but some downright bad ones as well. I need to get to the practice ground to sort things out."

Woodrome, a 56 year old from California, also arrived in Wales in confident mood having won the Wallonia Open in Belgium about a month ago. Like Chillas, he dropped a shot at the 436 yard first but recovered it at the second, before a birdie at the sixth, an eagle at the seventh and a birdie on the tenth moved him to four under par. He dropped shots on the 427 yard 15th and the 354 yard 16th before holing out from 50 feet for a birdie two down the last.

A rash of low scoring eclipsed the Seniors Tour debuts made by Ireland's Des Smyth and England's Carl Mason, two of the pre-tournament favourites.

Smyth came into the Welsh event having amassed more than $550,000 in his first 13 starts on the Champions Tour in America but struggled to a one over par 70 after opening with two bogeys in his first four holes. He goes into the second round sharing 26th place alongside a large group including Spain's Manuel Pinero, 1963 Open champion, Bob Charles, Order of Merit leader Terry Gale, and defending champion, Seiji Ebihara from Japan.

"It was one of those days when nothing much happened," said Smyth, who usurped Coles' record as the oldest man to win on the European Tour when he won the 2001 Madeira Island Open at the age of 48 years and 34 days. "I got off to a slow start and never realy got it going after that."

Mason, a former Scottish Open and Turespana Masters champion, dropped shots on both of the first two holes on his way to carding a three over par 72.

"I suppose I was a bit rusty," said Mason. "I made a few daft mistakes I don't think I would have made if I had been playing a bit more competitive golf. Hopefully, that's them all out of my system."

Ireland's Eamonn Darcy, fresh from a second place finish at the Farmers Charity Classic on the Champions Tour in America, carded a two over par 71, while compatriot, Christy O'Connor Jnr was two shot worse.

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