Scotland’s Martin Gray stands at the top of the leaderboard on day one of the inaugural Azores Senior Open after a three under par round of 69.
The man from Fife, who leads by one shot from America’s Chuck Milne, was one of the few players in the field to master the undulating greens at Batalha Golf Club in Sao Miguel, one of the nine Atlantic islands which form the Azores.
Gray, who made five birdies and two bogeys in benign weather conditions, has three runner-up finishes to his name but is yet to record a win on the European Seniors Tour.
But the Scot is hoping to change that record on his second outing of the 2008 season. He said: I haven’t won before – I think I must have finished second about 20 times in my career. But it’s not something that really plays on my mind at my age. I just go out and try to enjoy myself.
“My putting stroke was back to its good old self today, because I’ve been struggling a bit with my putter in recent years. So how well I putt over the next two days will dictate whether or not I can get that first win on the board.
“I saved a couple of pars today and sank all the five footers, which meant I earned the nickname ‘Tiger’ from my playing partner Delroy [Cambridge]. I'm not sure about that though. It’ll be nice just to be in contention come Sunday afternoon, but there’s still an awful lot of golf to be played between now and then.”
Gray leads Milne by one shot after the American posted four birdies en route to a round of 70.
The man from Washington was pleased with his day’s work, saying: “My round really kicked into gear with a 30ft putt for birdie on the sixth green. I didn’t do anything special on the back nine, but I hung in there.
“It’s hard to make birdies out there, so I wouldn’t be at all surprised if level par wins the tournament. It’s a tough golf course, so it’s crucial not to make any mistakes, or else you’ll get punished.”
Argentina’s Luis Carbonetti is a further shot behind Milne on one under par, whilst Spain’s José Rivero produced one of the highlights of the day when he holed his tee shot on the par three eighth.
Rivero’s compatriot Juan Quiros, who finished in third place on last season’s Order of Merit, is also in contention on one under par, alongside Chile's Angel Fernandez.
But the man they all have to catch is Gray, who would like to see the Azores Senior Open become a regular fixture on the Schedule.
He said: “The course is very tough, particularly on the greens. Unless you hit it close, you’re just hoping to get down in two most of the time. I was fortunate in that I managed to find the middle of the green on most holes, and sunk a few putts. It was nice to putt like Carl Mason for a change.
“If the weather stays good, I would expect a few more players to break 70 over the next couple of days. But it depends where they put the pins. They were quite generous today, which gave us a reasonable chance of attacking the flag. So if they leave them where they are, we might have half a chance of some low scores. If they start putting them on the slopes, it might make life very difficult for us.
“But overall it's great to be here, because it’s a lovely island. It’s very reminiscent of Scotland in places with the small fields, the wind and the cows. It's almost like being back at home. I would hope it becomes a regular event on the Tour, because I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my stay so far.”