On a day when many of the field found their feet were made of Glamorgan clay, David J Russell stood firm with a round of three under par 69 to lead the £500,000 FIRSTPLUS Wales Seniors Open at The Vale Hotel, Golf & Spa Resort.
The Englishman is one stroke clear of compatriot Martin Poxon and Spanish former Ryder Cup player José Rivero on a truly international leaderboard that also features Zimbabwe’s Tony Johnstone and Frenchman Gery Watine on one under par.
Ireland’s Des Smyth, a Vice-Captain to Ian Woosnam for this year’s Ryder Cup at The K Club, heads the five-strong group on level par 72, while England’s Carl Mason started the defence of his title with a 73.
Russell was one of only five players to break par on the tricky, sun-baked Wales National Course and the 52 year old put some of his success down to his experience of playing on clay-based courses.
“I think that coming from the middle of England, where we have a lot of clay golf courses, means that I am more used to playing on this sort of surface,” said the Birmingham-born golfer.
“I played well today but this is a really dangerous golf course. On quite a lot of shots you have to be very good with your distance control and off a really firm clay surface that is the hardest thing to do.”
Russell got his round off to a flying start by holing from 40 feet for a birdie at the first. He then hit it close with a wedge at the next hole for birdie, before dropping the only shot of his round at the third.
He erased that error with a four at the par five tenth and a slightly fortunate birdie at the 466-yard par four 17th hole capped an enjoyable day’s work for the popular Englishman.
“At the 17th I managed to hit an eight iron from 198 yards to about three foot of the pin - I don’t know how it got there!” admitted Russell. “Everything is going pretty well at the moment but it is pretty dangerous out there. You are hitting golf clubs to go 160 yards but if you miss the green they will go 200 yards and into the trees. You have to be so accurate with your shots into the green.”
Poxon, who like Russell is chasing his maiden victory on the European Seniors Tour, looked as though he would snatch the lead but bogeyed the final two holes to drop into second spot on two under par alongside Rivero, who made his winning breakthrough at the DGM Barbados Open in March.
Watine lasted longer before finally succumbing to the National Course, the Frenchman dropping his only shot at the last for a round of 71 and a place alongside Johnstone, who continued his remarkable return to competitive golf with another impressive round.
A shot further back, on level par 72, are Horacio Carbonetti of Argentina, England’s Denis Durnian, winner of the inaugural Welsh Seniors Open in 2001, American Pete Oakley, Simon Owen of New Zealand and Ireland’s Des Smyth.
Playing with Sam Torrance, Smyth started his round with a flourish by hitting the pin at the first hole with his eight iron approach from heavy rough and then sinking the putt.
His next birdies came at the 11th, where he holed from 15ft for a two, and at the treacherous 12th following a superb drive and wedge to two feet.
At that stage he was three under and leading the tournament, but after finding water at the 16th and a bush at the 17th, Smyth was forced to settle for a share of sixth place on level par.
He said: “I was very happy with the way I played and had a bad finish, that’s all. I pushed my tee shot at 16 into a lake and was happy to make a bogey there. Then at 17 I pushed my second shot under a bush and it took me two shots to get out of there. That sort of spoiled my day really.
“You feel that after all these years the game might get easier, but it doesn’t. I had to be on my guard all day as this course has a lot of teeth and it is waiting to take a chunk out of you. Therefore, level par is not a bad score to start with.”
Meanwhile, an erratic back nine undermined Torrance’s hopes of winning his third European Seniors Tour title in four starts.
The omens were not good from the outset as he three-putted the first green for a bogey five before erasing the blemish with a birdie at the fifth to reach the turn at level par.
Another birdie followed at the tenth and just as everyone was expecting another Torrance charge, the opposite happened as the Wales National Course began to bear its teeth.
The current European Seniors Tour Number One dropped four shots in three holes before managing to wrestle one back to finish in a group on two over par 74 that includes Tony Price, the leading Welshman.
Torrance said: “It wasn’t great today, especially on the back nine. I got it back to one over only to three-putt 17. All in all it was disappointing, but with the scores as they were today the plus point is that I am not that far off the pace. This is a tricky course but nowhere is unconquerable.”
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