Australian Peter Senior, widely tipped in only his second European Senior Tour event, was looking a sound bet after opening his Travis Perkins plc Senior Masters account with a three under par 69 to lie in a three-way tie for the lead at Woburn Golf Club.
Senior, as fitting a name as any for a golfer on the over 50 circuit, joined Zimbabwe’s Tony Johnstone and Italy’s Costantino Rocca at the top of the leaderboard on a blustery first day at Woburn.
Scot Sam Torrance, meanwhile, is well placed to mount an assault on the summit of the European Senior Tour Order of Merit after an opening one under par 71. Torrance, who needs a top four finish to overtake both Ian Woosnam and Mark McNulty in the race to finish Number One, lies just two shots off the pace.
“It was a bit scrappy but I putted well so when I missed a green I got it up and down for par,” said the former Ryder Cup Captain. “The game is not quite right there but I am in good shape.”
As for his prospects of overtaking Woosnam, who opened with a 75, and edging ahead in the race to win the Order of Merit title he won in 2005 and 2006, Torrance said: “It is obviously my aim but not something you think about while you are playing at all. But the first thing I look at when I come in is Woosie and Carl Mason’s scores so it is obviously in the back of my mind.”
Senior only turned 50 at the end of July and, with a top five already under his belt as well as a number of high finishes early in the year on the regular Tour, is looking good for this week.
For 11 holes he was on fire, rolling in five birdies to pull clear of the field. But a bogey at the 12th and double bogey at the 14th saw him drop back before drawing level with the leaders with a birdie on the 17th.
“I started really well, took my chances for the first 11 holes but just made a couple of mistakes coming on,” said Senior. “I am playing steady but the game is still a little off as I have not played much. I am looking forward to playing on a regular basis again.”
Johnstone felt his 69 could not have been any worse, and but for two severe horseshoes he could have held the outright lead as he looks to win at Woburn for the first time after a number of near misses over the years, notably when he lost out on the British Masters title in 1992 to Ireland’s Christy O’Connor Jnr.
He also relished playing in front of the sizeable galleries following his match which also featured Torrance and Eamonn Darcy.
“We love having the support of the public and you feel better and play better when you have people watching,” he said. “It is a great start. It couldn’t have been a shot more. I had a couple of serious horseshoes, my fault not the course which is in immaculate condition. The greens are as good as well will putt all season. Every single one of us likes playing this course.”
Rocca has been enjoyed a break for the last three weeks but showed no signs of rust as he picked up five birdies and dropped just two shots, the highlight being a birdie two on the ninth after a wonderful six iron to three feet.
“I hit the ball well, holed some nice putts,” said Italy’s first Ryder Cup player. “In these conditions, three under I am very happy. I haven’t played for a few weeks but if I hit the ball like I did today and putt a little better I could be up there. Top ten would be good, top five better and if I win even better.”
Johnstone and Rocca are both working with new caddies, Johnstone reverting back to the experienced bagman he worked with for many years on The European Tour, while Rocca went to the other extreme in offering a job to a complete novice over a beer.
Both, however, were quick to praise the new men at their sides, Johnstone complimenting Neil Smithers on his skills of reading the greens, while Rocca pointed out that, at 6 ft 3 in, his caddie, Matt Collings, is much better at knowing what the wind is doing than himself at a lowly 5 ft 9 in.