The Americans took control on the opening day of The Senior British Open Championship, presented by Aberdeen Asset Management at The Westin Turnberry Resort, with Peter Jacobsen, Loren Roberts and Craig Stadler carding five-under-par 65s to share the lead.
The trio finished the day one stroke ahead of compatriot Tim Simpson and last year’s runner-up, Des Smyth of Ireland, who heads the European Seniors Tour challenge.
However, the one notable US star missing from the top of the Ailsa Course leaderboard was defending champion Tom Watson, who struggled in a three-over-par 73 and finished in a group that also featured home favourite and European Seniors Tour Number One Sam Torrance.
Roberts was the pick of the players at the top as the Californian, a three-time winner on this season’s US Champions Tour, hit 17 greens in regulation and picked up birdies at the fourth, ninth, tenth, 13th and 17th holes.
“I didn’t really scare a bogey today and that is very unusual for links golf,” said Roberts. “The weather conditions were great today, more like California, and it was there for the taking. Peter put up a good score in the morning and me and the afternoon boys probably even had better conditions.”
Jacobsen, playing despite a painful hip problem, set the early mark thanks largely to a brilliant run of four consecutive birdies approaching the turn.
The 52 year old revealed: “I have been struggling with a bad hip which is going to need some medical attention this winter and I wasn’t sure I was even coming. But because of this venue and the fact I love playing in the Seniors Open, I did everything I could to come.
“I had a couple of procedures last Thursday. I had an epidural to reduce some pain in my back and also some platelet gel injected into my left hip.
“My doctor told me to wait until Sunday morning to hit balls to see how I felt. So I went out and hit some balls and jumped on a plane at two o’clock on Sunday afternoon.”
Former Masters champion Stadler, who managed to find just six fairways, collected an eagle three at the 17th to remind everyone why he finished fourth in last year’s event.
Tim Simpson, another American, ended the day one shot adrift of the leaders to confirm that he has fully recovered from the brain surgery he underwent 17 months ago.
Simpson’s score of 66 was equalled by Smyth, who was beaten in a play-off by Watson in last year’s Senior British Open Championship, presented by Aberdeen Asset Management at Royal Aberdeen.
The Irishman revealed that he was indebted to European Ryder Cup Captain Ian Woosnam for his recent return to form.
Smyth said: “A few weeks ago I was swinging very badly and Woosie saw me on TV and he very kindly rang me and gave me a tip about clearing my left shoulder a bit quicker through the shot. That has helped me a lot and a 66 on this golf course is something to be happy with.
“I got so close last year but that was not good enough in this business, as I didn’t get my name on the trophy. I am happy where I am sitting and I just hope I can keep it up for the next three days.”
England’s Gordon J Brand, who finished second to Greg Norman in the Australian’s Open victory at Turnberry in 1986, found the revamped Ailsa layout was still to his liking before a bogey at the 17th dropped him back into a share of sixth place.
Keeping Brand company among the nine-strong group on 67 are fellow European Seniors Tour players Mark James of England, Juan Quiros of Spain and Eduardo Romero of Argentina.
Brand commented: “It was a nice steady round. I only had one misfortune, at number 17 where I dropped a shot, but that’s going to happen on a course like this. You’re going to get some awkward bounces at times. After nine holes, I definitely felt like I could have done better than five under. I’m sure other players probably felt the same. It was there for the taking. The greens were a perfect pace but when you get to my age, you just don’t hole as many as you used to.”
The biggest cheer of the day was saved for the evergreen Gary Player, a three-time winner of this event who rolled back the years to birdie two of the closing three holes to finish with a 69 – one stroke better than his age.
“It was a real thrill to beat my age, especially at Turnberry, a course which I have always placed in my top 20 in the world,” said Player before heading to the gym to tone his 70 year old limbs.