Carl Mason, Sam Torrance and John Bland all carded six under par rounds of 66 to share the lead after the first round of the De Vere PGA Seniors Championship at De Vere Carden Park in Cheshire.
The Scot, the Englishman and the South African go into the second round one shot ahead of Bob Cameron, John Chillas, Seiji Ebihara, Bill Longmuir and John Morgan while David Good and Alan May are two shots off the pace after recording four under par 68s.
Mason arrived at Carden Park as defending champion and wasted no time in confirming he will be one of the men to beat by compiling a flawless round that included six birdies and no dropped shots.
The current European Seniors Tour Number One began his round with birdies on the 507 yard par five first and 445 yard par four second. He also birdied the seventh and the eighth to go out in 32 and then fired further birdies at the 14th and 15th to stake an early claim for the £33,330 first prize.
“It was a very steady round,” admitted the Englishman who has claimed 11 Seniors Tour victories since turning 50 18 months ago. “I hit the ball well and actually could have been a couple of shots better because I missed short putts on both the fifth and ninth holes.”
“I like it here,” he added. “I finished second on my debut in 2003 and then defeated Seiji Ebihara and Jim Rhodes in a play off last year. I suppose the course must suit my game.”
Torrance took a week off after experiencing back problems at the Senior British Open at Royal Aberdeen and the rest would seem to have done him a lot of good. He raced to the turn in two under par 34 and then played the shot of the day when he holed a 124 yard wedge shot for an eagle two at the 406 yard par four 12th. That proved to be the start of a sparkling run because he also birdied the 13th, 14th and 15th before dropping only his second shot of the day on the 425 yard par four 16th where he buried his second shot under the lip of a greenside bunker.
“It was a pretty good day,” said the former Ryder Cup captain who won the recent Irvine Whitlock Seniors Classic in Jersey. “I had a great run between the 11th and the 15th but got a bad break at the 16th where I buried my second shot in the sand and was a little bit lucky to get it out.
“It’s a nice start,” he added. “If I can put together three more rounds like that I won’t be too far away.”
Bland produced a faultless round in which he went out in 32 after birdies at the third, fifth, sixth and seventh and then added two more at the 10th and the 14th.
“I really enjoyed the round.” said the 59 year old South African who spends much of his time competing on the Champions Tour in the States. “It great to see a lot of the guys I used to travel with when I was playing on the European Tour in the 1970s and it’s even better because I seem to have brought a bit of form with me.
“I played very nicely,” he added. “I missed a good birdie chance from about 10 feet at the last but I’m not going to let that spoil what was a very good day.”
Eamonn Darcy and Denis O’Sullivan were the leading Irishmen at the end of the first
They both posted rounds of 69 to share 12th place with a large group comprising Armando Saavedra, Tony Charnley, John McTear, Simon Owen, Hank Woodrome, Tony Allen, Guillermo Encina, Nick Job, Terry Gale, Ray Stewart and Luis Carbonetti.
“It was one of those days,” said Darcy. “I played pretty well but I didn’t do quite as well as I might have done.
“It’s still a good start though. I’d certainly have taken a 69 before I went out although I’m a little surprised about how low the scoring has been. The cut is going to be pretty low tomorrow.”
A total of 46 golfers broke par and another five shared 47th place on level par 72.
North Warwickshire club professional Andrew Bownes celebrated his 50th birthday with a fine two under par 70 that saw him finish the day tied with Maurice Bembridge, Giuseppe Cali, Delroy Cambridge, Victor Garcia, Bill Hardwick, Bruce Heuchan, Craig Maltman, David Oakley, Martin Poxon, Jim Rhodes and Gery Watine.
“It was a great way to spend my birthday,” said Bownes. “I was very nervous at the start but settled down and played some pretty good golf.
“I’m thinking of going to the Seniors Tour Qualifying School this autumn but thought I would wait to see how I did this week before I made up my mind.
“Today was a good start but I’m well aware there is still a long way to go.”
The leading 60 golfers and those tied in 60th place will make the cut at the end of the second round.