Continuing the fine year 2007 is proving to be for Argentine golf, Horacio Carbonetti shot a sparkling six under par round of 64, a score matched by Scotland’s Steve Martin, to co-lead the Bad Ragaz PGA Seniors Open in Switzerland.
Northern Ireland’s Jimmy Heggarty and England’s Carl Mason are both one shot back after scoring 65, while Japan’s Katsuyoshi Tomori and America’s Doug Johnson are on four under par. Nine other players shot 67 to be tied in seventh place after the opening round.
On an ideal day for low scoring in Switzerland, due to the benign conditions, 29 players bettered the par of 70, but it was former Walker Cup golfer Martin who set the target, playing in the first group teeing off at 8.30am.
Admitting he found inspiration in the form of the picturesque Alpine course, the 52 year old from Dundee said: “I’m very pleased – it’s my best round of the year. I’ve been struggling and finishing in 50-60th place in most tournaments. There have been some disasters, so I didn’t come here with any great expectations.
“The difference today was I got off to a good start and kept it going. I played steady and kept finding the greens. It’s a very congested course, so you’ve got to keep it tight and be able to move the ball. It’s a lovely place to have shot my best score of the year.”
Martin went out in 31 strokes and back in 33. His birdies on the outward nine came from three feet on the second hole; he got up and down from the greenside bunker on the 480-yard par five fourth hole, and then hit back to back birdies on holes eight and nine.
A run of six pars followed until he drained a 12 foot effort for a four on the 484-yard par five 16th hole. Then, on the 18th hole, Martin sank a snaking 20 foot putt down a slope to put the seal on a great score.
In his 64, Carbonetti, the tournament winner in 2003, compiled seven birdies and dropped just one shot, on the 577 yards par five 12th. He said: “I am very happy – I like this course very much and my putting was very good today.”
Carbonetti added that he too has been inspired by the feats of his fellow countrymen in 2007 – Angel Cabrera’s US Open victory, the emergence of Andres Romero and his debut European Tour win at The Deutsche Bank Players’ Championship, and Eduardo Romero’s ongoing fine play on the European Seniors Tour, where he leads the Order of Merit.
However, Romero is being pursued at the top by second place Carl Mason, who produced the opening day’s fireworks when he came home in 30 strokes after starting the back nine with an eagle on the tenth.
He said: “I holed my wedge from 96 yards, and that really got me going. I then hit a 6 iron to 18 feet on 11 and holed that for a two, holed a putt of 35 feet on 13, after hitting two good shots to the back of the green. I then laid up short on 16 and chipped up to four feet for a nice birdie – so yes, it was a good back nine.
“I’m pleased because, after a difficult week at Wentworth last week at the Wentworth Senior Masters, I came here with my putting not very good, or so I thought. Thankfully, I’ve got my stroke back, so that’s good news, and the greens are rolling nicely after the rain we’ve had.”
Mason added: “It’s a nice little track here, but it’s one of those courses that you feel you should be birdieing every hole. Of course, you have to be patient and wait for your turn to come. You look at the board and see somebody three or four under after six and think, ‘what’s going on?’ But you have to be patient as your turn will come. There are lots of birdie chances and I was able to take them.”
Currently 50th place on The European Seniors Tour Order of Merit, Heggarty’s 65 was made up of a birdie two at the third hole after a seven iron to a foot, while a brace of nine iron approaches to four feet on holes eight and ten set up further birdies.
On the 12th he holed from 12 feet and holed from 25 feet on the 17th for another two, to also complete his best score of the season.
He said: “My game’s been poor up until now – but hopefully I’ve turned the corner now. I was due something to happen. I’ve been working more on my focus, as my concentration has been very poor. Last week I started working more on my concentration, rather than my golf game, and it seems to have paid off. I’ve a better attitude on the golf course – I’m a bit more relaxed.
“You can’t just stand up on any golf course and take it for granted – you’ve got to focus and concentrate on what you’re doing. It’s a tight course here – there’s a few tight drives that you’ve got to put on the fairway, but it seems to suit my eye and game. Hopefully it will continue.”
England’s Bob Cameron shot a 67 to be three off the lead. The Plymouth man, out in 33 and back in 34, said: “It’s very easy to catch an overhanging tree branch because it’s such a tight course, so you’ve got to be straight. I got off to a great start, with birdies at the second, third, fourth and sixth, but had a stupid three putt on seven from the bottom tier. Then I just hung on, and got a couple more on the way in.
“The greens have sped up a bit from the pro-am, so that’s caught us out a little bit. It’s rolling a lot better, which was nice to see. Physically, I’m not quite 100 per cent, so I’m happy with 67. It’s nice to get back to shooting under par and build a bit of confidence. I putted nicely on the last few holes, which is another positive to take into tomorrow.”
St Gallen resident Maurice Bembridge, playing on home turf as he is attached to Golf Club Bad Ragaz, also shot 67. The 62 year old said: “I’m happy with that – I haven’t broken 70 this year. I’ve played round here hundreds of times, so expect to get a good score.
“I had a few chances and made some unbelievable recoveries – but I’m hoping the course will dry out and become a bit bouncier. It’s a bit more exciting when it’s hard and dry. At the moment it’s just hit and stop, so it’s playing long. I’m just glad I’m in the hunt, because I struggle on the longer courses. Even the 15th here is a 250-yard carry to get to the yellow marker.”
Bob Charles, seeking to become the oldest winner in Seniors Tour history, once again matched his age with a 71, the third time in his past four rounds of competitive golf he has done so.
The 1963 Open Champion had been looking forward to playing a shorter course in Bad Ragaz, after a testing previous two tournaments battling in excess of 7,000 yards at The Senior Open Championship at Muirfield, and the Edinburgh Course at Wentworth Club for the Wentworth Senior Masters.
Charles, who had four bogeys and three birdies, also found the conditions trying. He said: “It’s not a long course, but the course is playing long because there’s no run on the ball. Here, it’s cold, damp, so the ball’s not running on the ground or going through the heavy air.
“The first hole I got trapped. I thought it was a comfortable six iron to the green and thought it was right over the flag, but it came up short in the bunker. So the damp, cold air and misjudging a shot cost me one there. I also made a couple of bad swings, and the results were bogeys. My recovery wasn’t very good and I didn’t make any putts of consequence out there either. So it was an average day on the golf course – nothing special.”
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