Carl Mason may be the talk of the town in his bid to win a third title in as many weeks but he was upstaged by one of the players he is trying to emulate as Tommy Horton posted a three under par 69 to lie in a six-way share of the lead after the first round of the Nigel Mansell Sunseeker International Classic.
Only Seve Ballesteros and Nick Faldo on The European Tour and Horton on the Seniors Tour have ever claimed a hat-trick in successive weeks but Mason has a golden opportunity to join the illustrious group having won back-to-back titles in the De Vere Northumberland Seniors Classic and the Ryder Cup Wales Seniors Open over the past fortnight.
Mason has won four times in consecutive appearances but now faces an uphill task if he is to claim a hat-trick this week after an opening 75 left him six shots off the lead held by Horton and fellow Englishmen Tony Charnley, Martin Foster and Jim Rhodes, South African Gavan Levenson and Northern Ireland’s Eddie Polland.
Horton won the last of his 23 European Seniors Tour titles in 2000 but, at the age of 64, has his sights set on both shooting his age and claiming a 24th title. He made six birdies at the Nigel Mansell-owned course in Devon but three putted on three occasions on his way to a 69.
“It could have been better,” admitted Horton. “But I have been hitting it well for a couple of weeks and when the putts drop you can be right up there.”
Foster is back in contention for the first time since undergoing surgery to remove a tumour from his neck in 2002, joining the leading group on 69 and finds himself in unfamiliar territory at the top of the leaderboard.
“It’s been a while since I was in this position so might take some getting used to,” said the Yorkshireman, runner-up five times during his career on the regular Tour.
Rhodes won his first stroke-play title last year in Jersey but has struggled to rekindle the same form in 2005. But he displayed a calm consistency from the outset, birdieing the first and keeping a bogey off his card until the final hole.
Polland, who won four titles on the regular Tour before adding two Seniors Tour titles after turning 50, picked up five birdies with just the two dropped shots to share the lead.
“I’ve been playing extremely well but for some unknown reason lost the knack of scoring,” said Polland. “But I managed to keep everything together. Over the past year I have thrown shots away but I kept taking a deep breath when I was in a difficult situation and kept the score going. I holed out well which is something I have not been doing.”
As for Mason, he admitted he was “not at the races” after his three over par 75 left him six shots off the pace.