While the build-up to The Senior British Open Championship, presented by Aberdeen Asset Management, had been dominated by Greg Norman’s first appearance in Seniors Tour golf, once play got underway it was another debutant, Loren Roberts who was making headlines on a day when no player broke par.
Strong North Sea winds gusted across Royal Aberdeen Golf Club and took with it a host of big name players who fell foul of testing conditions and tight fairways.
Greg Norman, Tom Watson and Tom Kite – all Major Championship winners and many people’s tips to lift the trophy on Sunday - finished on a combined total of 21 over par.
Blue figures littered the scoreboards around the Balgownie Links but American Roberts managed six birdies to his seven dropped shots, which included a double bogey at the treacherous par four ninth, to leave him on one over and a shot clear of seven players tied for second place.
Roberts only turned 50 last month and was happy with his first round in senior competition. “The first nine were brutally tough. And I got off to a very good start considering the weather and all that.
“I made some three putts today, which I don’t normally. But all in all I made some good putts today. I really putted well. If you get the ball 25, 30 feet of the hole it’s tough to get the ball high, it really is,” added Roberts, who has won eight times on the US PGA Tour and finished tied second at the 1994 US Open behind Ernie Els.
Tied for second place at Royal Aberdeen are Ireland’s Des Smyth, Americans Frank Conner and Craig Stadler, European Seniors Tour referee Derrick Cooper of England, Canada’s Ray Stewart, Australian Terry Gale and Giuseppe Cali of Italy.
It looked as though Smyth would snatch the overnight lead after plotting his way around the back nine with a mix of skill and stealth that he learned on the links at Baltry, County Louth.
The 52 year old from Drogheda – twice a winner of the US Champions Tour this season – was level par coming down the 18th at around 7pm. But a drive into the rough was followed by a hack out and a pitch to within 12 foot.
Smyth raced his par putt past and failed to make the return, eventually signing for a double bogey six that dropped him back into a group on two over.
“It was a disappointing finish,” admitted the Irishman. “Even with pulling my tee shot into the rough I shouldn’t have walked off with a six. I should have made five. Overall I am happy, plus two, it was a really tough day.”
Cooper, who also shot a 73, was more frank in his assessment of the course. “It’s like getting a tiger by the tail – you’re waiting for the front to come round and bite you,” he said.
Two times Open Champion Norman – a man whose victories at Turnberry in 1986 and Royal St George’s in 1993 show that he knows a good deal about playing links courses – described it as “fair but extremely difficult” after posting a five over par 76.
Watson carded a four over 75 for a share of 12th place, but his compatriot Kite fared much worse and signed for an 83.
But for every nadir there was a high. Welshman Tony Price set the pulses racing early on with a hole-in-one at the par three third. Such was the strength of the cross-wind that Price needed a driver to cover the 223 yards.
England’s Nick Job matched Price’s feat with a three wood later in the day and both players were given 223 bottles of Hardys wine as a prize – one for each yard of the hole.
But there was no getting away from how brutal the course was playing, a fact borne out by Joe Inman’s ten at the par four seventh. The American also added two eights on an outward half of 51 before coming home in 34. He played 14 holes in even par and four holes in 14 over.
Former Ryder Cup Captain Mark James is two strokes off the lead along with American Alan Tapie, while the leading Scottish player is Aberdonian John Chillas on four over.
Leading scores from round one of The Senior British Open Championship at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club, par 71
72 L Roberts (USA)
73 F Conner (USA); G Cali (It); D Cooper (Eng); R Stewart (Can); D Smyth (Ire); C Stadler (USA); T Gale (Aus)
74 M James (Eng); A Tapie (USA)
75 H Carbonetti (Arg); T Price (Wal); C Mason (Eng); I Aoki (Jap); J Chillas (Scot); T Watson (USA); E Romero (Arg); D Johnsopn (USA)