Gordon Brand Jnr quickly readjusted to Slaley Hall’s Hunting Course, where he made a memorable European Senior Tour debut last year, as he fired a three under par 69 for a four-way share of the lead in The De Vere Collection PGA Seniors Championship.
The former Ryder Cup player finished runner up to namesake Gordon J Brand after an epic six hole play-off in 2008, narrowly missing out on becoming the youngest Senior Tour winner just five days after turning 50.
Brand carded four birdies and just the single bogey – on his final hole of the day – to match the clubhouse target set earlier by South African Jeff Hawkes and American John Benda. Paraguay’s Angel Franco then joined the trio at the top of the leaderboard after he three putted the 18th to also finish three under par.
Having finished 30th in the Ryder Cup Wales Seniors Open last week, Brand Jnr said he was considerably more satisfied with his game following an impressive opening round in Northumberland.
“I played very solidly today but bogeyed my last hole, the ninth, which was a tough hole but I had better control today,” said the 50 year old Scotsman.
“It is a course to my liking but there is a long way to go yet. I’ve been struggling with my game and nothing has been consistent. I have a bad round and then finish off quite well but today was as good as it has been for a while so I’m very pleased.
“The ninth is a tough hole – it’s two woods - into there and I was on the front edge so I had a tough putt which I ran by but to just have one bogey and a smattering of birdies was very satisfying.
“It’s playing a lot easier than last year. It is a lot shorter and the rough is not as bad. The course is in great shape and playing a lot easier.
“My real pleasure today was playing with (former Open Champion) Bob Charles. He was only 10 yards behind me and he is 73! You don’t often get to play with class people like that and he was class today.”
Franco is chasing his first Senior Tour victory after finishing runner up on three occasions, including in this year’s DGM Barbados Open.
He said: “I was very happy. I hit the ball very well. I bogeyed the 18th as my first putt was too long but I feel very comfortable on this course and I played well.”
Hawkes posted six birdies in his round of 69 but a double bogey finish cost him the position of outright leader, likewise Benda double bogeyed the seventh hole after six birdies and a bogey.
For Hawkes it was an encouraging opening round as he continues his comeback after missing the whole of last season following surgery on both his shoulder and a long term foot problem.
“It’s been a while since I’ve played well under par but it was a shame about the finish,” said the 55 year old. “It was fun until then.
“It was a good scoring round but I didn’t hit the ball as well as I have been. I like the course. It’s ideal conditions – we’ve played in rain here before so it is good.”
England’s Kevin Spurgeon is a shot behind the leaders on two under par while Order of Merit leader Ian Woosnam, who arrived at Slaley Hall in fine form after winning in Ireland three weeks ago and finishing tied third in Wales last week, signed for an opening round one over par 73.
The 2006 Ryder Cup Captain said: “I was one under for the first nine but I’m just not playing well enough so 73 was about right. I’m just not hitting as well as I would like. I’ve just got to wait for those days when I’m playing well.”
Sam Torrance, another former Ryder Cup Captain, is a shot further back after a two over par 74, while defending champion Gordon J Brand opened with a nine over par 81.
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