Tom Watson extended his love affair with the Ailsa course at Turnberry when he carded a fine four under par 66 to claim a share of the lead alongside compatriot, Tom Kite, after the first round of the Senior British Open, presented by MasterCard.
The two Americans go into the second round one shot ahead of a large group comprising defending champion Noboru Sugai, Scotland's Russell Weir, Englishmen Denis Durnian and Carl Mason, Americans Mark McCumber and Fuzzy Zoeller and Ireland's Des Smyth.
Maurice Bembridge, Malcolm Gregson, Bill Hardwick, and Bruce Summerhays shared tenth place on two under par 68, with Isao Aoki, Bob Cameron, Bob Charles, Brian Jones, Bill Longmuir, Noel Ratcliffe and DA Weibring all locked together on one under par 69.
Watson makes no secret of the fact that he has loved Turnberry ever since defeating Jack Nicklaus in the famous "Duel in the Sun" at the 1977 Open. Yesterday, he wrote a new chapter in its rich history with a fine round that included five birdies and just one dropped shot.
The 53 year-old American made his first move when he birdied the 381 yard par four second but then dropped a shot at the 174 yard par three fourth. He jumped to the top of the leaderboard with three successive birdies from the seventh and then consolidated his position with a further birdie on the treacherous 209 yard par three 15th.
"I have to say I got a bit lucky out there," admitted the amicable American, who won five Open titles between 1975 and 1983.
"I hit a lot of bad drives but every time I went into the rough I seemed to have a play.
"I don't think I can count on being so lucky tomorrow," he added.
Kite, the 1992 US Open champion, dropped two shots when he drove into the rough on his opening hole but then made the turn in level par after birdies on the 381 yard par four second and the 475 yard par five seventh. He moved to two under the card with successive birdies on the 13th and 14th and then finished his round in fine style with further birdies on the 497 yard par five 17th and the 434 yard par four 18th.
"I have to admit it wasn't quite the start I was looking for," said Kite. "It was a bit of a slap in the face but I have been playing well for the last couple of weeks so I didn't let it get me down.
"Overall, I have got to be pleased with the round, particularly with the way I played the last six holes. Any time you play that stretch in four under par you know you have played some pretty decent golf."
Defending champion, Noboru Sugai, was a 100-1 outsider when he won last year's title at Royal County Down but 12 months later the Japanese golfer showed that performance was no fluke with a spectacular round that included a brilliant outward nine of five under par 30. He also birdied the 174 yard par three 11th but then dropped shots at the 14th, 16th and 18th.
One of the most impressive rounds of the day came from English rookie, Carl Mason, who won his first European Seniors Tour title at The Mobile Cup at Stoke Park, Buckinghamshire, a fortnight ago. Twenty four hours before the start of the championship Mason, a former Scottish Open champion, learned he had been paired with Watson and Jack Nicklaus but, far from being overwhelmed, the draw spurred him action.
"I have to admit I was nervous when we started out this morning," he said. "It isn't every day you get drawn with two legends so I didn't get much sleep last night. But, once I got going, I settled down a bit. In fact, I really enjoyed it. Jack and Tom could not have been nicer to me."
Watson, for one, was clearly impressed as Mason rebounded from dropping shots at both the first and the fourth. "Carl played a lot better than Jack or I did," admitted the American. "He hit the ball down the middle of fairway, hit the ball on the greens and putted nicely. He played beautifully, in fact."
Smyth, who came into the championship in 22nd place on the US Champions Tour's money list, was level par when he left the sixth green but then eagled the seventh and birdied the ninth to go out in 32. Coming home, he added three further birdies at the 10th, 14th and 17th but also dropped shots at the 16th and down the last.
"I'm happy with my game, " confirmed the Irishman. "If I can shoot three more 67s, I will be more than happy, I can assure you."
Weir, the 2000 Temes Greek Seniors Open champion, has struggled for most of the 2003 season but bounced back with a fine round that included birdies on the third, seventh, ninth, 12th and 17th. "It's just great to be here with the likes of Tom (Watson) and Jack (Nicklaus), said the Scot. "I think it has inspired us all. It has certainly worked for me."
Earlier in the day, former Ryder Cup Captain, Bernard Gallacher played six holes before retiring with a neck injury. Eleven-time US PGA Tour winner, Andy Bean withdrew after injuring a calf muscle in practice.