Glenn Ralph (Getty Images)
Glenn Ralph made the perfect return to Mauritius, where he sustained a career threatening injury, to take a one stroke first round lead in the inaugural Mauritius Commercial Bank Open with a fine five under par 67.
Ralph broke his ankle while on holiday on the sunshine Indian Ocean island three years ago, an injury which kept him out of the game for 14 months until the start of the 2009 campaign.
As a consequence the Englishman had to modify his swing to transfer more of his weight on to his front foot and the change led to his most successful season as a professional last year, when he won his maiden title in the Cleveland Golf/Srixon Scottish Senior Open en route to finishing fourth in the European Senior Tour Order of Merit.
He has carried forward that form into the opening event of the 2010 season, using his knowledge of Constance Belle Mare Plage’s Legend Course to move one stroke clear of compatriot Peter Mitchell and American Doug Johnson, with debutant David Frost two shots further back after a 70.
“Sam Torrance, who I was playing with, said 67 was the worst I could have scored today and that’s some compliment coming from him,” said Ralph. “I hit everything straight today and knocked nearly everything on the green. If I didn’t do that I chipped and putted well.
“I chipped in twice – on the 12th and 17th holes – which is the first time I’ve done that in my life. I’ve been on holiday quite a few times here so I know the course but I’ve also been playing well for some time now so long may it continue.
“I finished the 2009 like a steam train and I’m carrying it on.”
Ralph is targeting a sweet victory in Mauritius to banish the memories of the swimming pool accident which left him fearing for his golfing future.
“Breaking my leg here changed my golf for the better,” he said. “I’ve been coming here on holiday over the years because I love it and it just happened that I broke my ankle here. I walked away being told by the surgeon I might not play again and because of the way it has healed that seems to have changed everything which is bizarre but long may it continue! It’s been extraordinary.”
Mitchell had been the long time leader after producing a stunning front nine, reaching the turn in 30 shots after carding six birdies but he dropped three shots on the way in before a birdie on the last hole saw him sign for a four under par 68.
“I played really solid and the mistakes I made were just not being used to the greens,” said Mitchell, who is chasing his fifth Senior Tour victory. “I had two three putts coming in from 30ft which are easy mistakes to make when you are not used to the grain. My only ‘real’ bogey was on the 16th when I had a bad lie in the rough and I didn’t come out the way I wanted and finished in the bunker and I didn’t play a great shot.
“I was on fire on the front nine, I played really well. All my birdies were from four or five foot. My iron play was so good. I stuck to my game plan today even when things didn’t go too well so it’s been a great start to the season.
“I’ve spent a week practising at Qunita de Ria and Quinta de Cima in Portugal where the facilities are great and I came into this week confident. I wanted to get a good start. If I can get within three shots of the lead going into the final round I think I’m quite capable of forcing some errors on people.
“If I get a sniff of victory I’ll not let go – that’s the way I am. I’m really happy with my start and I’ll look forward to the weekend.”
Johnson recovered from a double bogey six on the 16th to eagle the last hole, stiffing his 230yard three wood approach shot to six feet, for a share of the second place with Mitchell.
Ironically Mitchell, who has coached a number of European Tour players including John Bickerton, has been giving Johnson some swing tips to help him rectify problems incurred following the injuries he sustained when his car engine exploded leaving him with severe burns to the right arm.
“I gave Peter a few putting tips before he won in the Czech Republic a couple of months ago so we’ve been trading favours,” he said. “I’ve not been swinging through fully but with Pete’s help my swing is back to what it was in the 1980s. If you get in the right set up you can hit it harder and better. Hopefully I can stick it out for the week.”
Johnson also revealed that a change in his putt helped him to a superb performance on the greens.
“I had 20 putts in my round and I one putted ten holes in a row which is unheard of for me. I’m using a T.R.U. Ball Golf putter for the first time this week and it is back weighted which seemed to make a big difference.”
South African Frost made a stunning start to his Senior Tour career with three birdies and an eagle in the first six holes to surge to the top of the leaderboard but struggled on the way in, finishing with a hat-trick of bogeys to sign for a two under par 70 and a share of fourth place with four other players including fellow European Tour winner Roger Chapman.
“I got off to a great start and then withered a bit in the heat of the battle on the back nine,” said the 50 year old two-time European Tour champion. “I shot myself in the foot on the back nine a bit, possibly due to a bit of inexperience on this course but overall it was a good start. It’s nice to know you can put a good nine together and I’ll hope to do it over 18 holes tomorrow.”
Sam Torrance, the 2009 Senior Tour Number One, began his defence of the John Jacobs Trophy with a two over par 74 to lie in a share of 32nd place.