Nigel Mansell, playing in the European Seniors Tour event carrying his own name over the golf course he owns, put up a brave performance as an amateur to finish only six behind Scotland’s Mike Miller after the first round of the Nigel Mansell Classic, presented by Sunseeker International, at Woodbury Park course in Devon.
Miller put a run of poor putting performances behind him when he carded a five under par 67 to move into a one shot lead, but the tournament host, now 50 years old himself, showed great strength of character to recover from some early damage to card a one over par 73.
While Mansell was finishing in front of some notable performers such as Seniors Order of Merit leader, Carl Mason, former Scottish amateur international, decided to switch to a claw putting grip at the start of the week and the change paid off instantaneously, producing a flawless round that included five birdies and no dropped shots.
The Scot, who came into the event in 46th place on the Seniors Tour Order of Merit, got his round of to a great start when he holed from 50 feet for a birdie on the 413 yard par four fourth. He sunk another three putts between 15 and 25 feet on the ninth, 14th and 16th before moving to five par after holing out from 30 feet on the 168 yard closing hole.
“You can’t begin to believe how good I feel after that,” said Miller, the 1996 Kenyan Open champion. “For the last few weeks my putting has been so bad that I thought I had to try something different. Today, for the first time, I used what I suppose you could describe as my version of the claw grip and it worked a treat.
"I can't remember the last time I putted as well as that," he added. "I just hope I can keep it going because I could do with a good result or two."
Miller goes into the second round one shot ahead of South Africa's Neville Clarke, Chile's Guillermo Encina, England's Ian Mosey and Australia's Ian Stanley and two in front of England’s Denis Durnian, New Zealand's Simon Owen and America's Hank Woodrome.
Italy’s Giuseppe Cali and Australia’s Terry Gale recorded 70s while Neil Coles and Bill Longmuir joined Bill Brask, Jerry Bruner, Alberto Croce, Baldovino Dassu, Martin Gray, Liam Higgins, Bob Shearer and Steve Stull on one under par 71.
Woodbury Park owner, Nigel Mansell, who recovered from a ragged start to card his 73. The former Formula 1 world champion, playing the event as an amateur, lost a ball off the tee on the 563 yard par five second and then dropped another two shots on the 413 yard par four fourth but then turned things round when he hit a spectacular 261 yard three wood to within two feet of the hole on the 505 yard par five ninth to set up an eagle three.
Mansell, 50, then raced home in level par 36 to go into the second round six shots behind the leader.
Mansell, the owner of the 4-star Woodbury Park venue, admitted to being incredibly nervous while starting out partnered by former Ryder Cup star, Neil Coles, and Scotsman, Bill Longmuir, the current Number Two on the Seniors Tour money list.
"I was probably more nervous than I have ever been at a sports event," the racing driver admitted. "I don't think I started breathing until I got to the seventh tee but the eagle on the ninth settled me down a bit and I was alright after that.
"It was a great privilege to play with a legend like Neil (Coles)," he added. "I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's something I will never forget."
Coles, winner of 25 European Tour titles and another 15 on the Seniors Tour, was impressed by Mansell's recovery.
"It was an excellent performance", said the 68 year-old who beat his age by four shots at last week's Travis Perkins Senior Masters at Wentworth Club.
"After a start like his, it would have been easy to score in the high 70s or low 80s but, like the champion he is, he dug in and fought his way back. I was very impressed."
David Chillas, made a solid start to his new career on the Seniors Tour, also recovering from an erratic start to post a level par 72. He goes into the second round within a large group on level par 72 that includes his elder brother, John, winner of last week's Travis Perkins Senior Masters at Wentworth Club.
The younger Chillas, who turned 50 on Tuesday, opened his round with a birdie on the 457 yard par four first hole. However, he dropped three shots after losing a ball on the 563 yard par five second before retrieving his score by carding ten pars, four birdies and just two bogeys over the remaining 16 holes of his round.
Chillas, a regular on The European Tour for most of the 1970s, admitted to feeling relief after completing his first round as a Senior.
"I admit I was a little bit apprehensive about what might happen today,“ the Scot. "I have hardly played any competitive golf for the last few years so I knew I would be a little bit rusty. With that in mind, I have got to be pleased with what I did today."
The Scottish debutant, was not the only golfer to come to grief on the treacherous second hole. Former Glenmuir British Club Professional champion, Bob Cameron, currently lying in eighth place on the Seniors Tour Order of Merit carded a nine on his way to an opening 76.
Compatriot, Carl Mason, the current leader of the money list fared little better. He succumbed to a triple-bogey eight on the same hole, eventually carding a 78, his highest score since turning 50 earlier this summer.
Mason goes into the second round in 69th place, eight shots behind Longmuir, his nearest challenger in the race for the John Jacobs Trophy, awarded at the end of the season to the Number One on the Seniors Tour Order of Merit.