Australian Peter Fowler continued his recent resurgence on the European Senior Tour with a five under par 67 to lead after the opening round of the ISPS Handa Senior World Championship presented by Mission Hills China.
Fowler, who has recorded two top ten finishes from three appearances already this season, fired six birdies to finish one stroke clear of current Order of Merit leader Sandy Lyle, Englishman D J Russell and fellow Australian Noel Ratcliffe.
It is the second consecutive week that Fowler has topped the leaderboard after the first round, having been co-leader with Bill Longmuir seven days ago in the Aberdeen Brunei Senior Masters presented by The Stapleford Forum.
The 51 year old former European Tour winner birdied the second, fifth and sixth holes of the World Cup Course at Mission Hills to reach the turn in 33 strokes. He then had back-to-back birdies on the 11th and 12th holes before his only bogey of the day on the par three 13th hole.
However he reclaimed that shot with a birdie on the 14th before coming home with four straight pars.
“I was pretty consistent today and it really helps on this course if you can carry it far,” said Fowler. “It’s great to be at the top of the leaderboard but it is no surprise that the likes of Sandy Lyle are close.
“He hits the ball so high and far which is a really big advantage on this course, but the scores are likely to be close. It’s great to be playing with these champions.”
Fowler won the 1989 World Cup for Australia, partnering Wayne Grady, and he is hoping that the World Cup Course at Mission Hills- albeit a different venue to the La Brisas in Spain where he triumphed 22 years ago – will inspire his maiden Senior Tour victory after an injury ravaged past two seasons.
“I had one and a half years off golf recently with a couple of surgeries but with six months or so back playing I’m feeling more comfortable,” he said.
“I’ve been playing quite consistently over the last few months and my putting has steadily improved.”
Two-time Major Champion Lyle, who is an ambassador for title sponsor ISPS, carded four birdies in the opening 11 holes of his flawless opening round 68 as he also continues his search for a first Senior Tour title.
The Scot leads the Senior Tour Order of Merit by €14,903 and is looking to extend that advantage ahead of the Senior Tour reaching Europe for the first time in 2011 in June.
He said: “I had a good start today, gathering momentum on the second with an early birdie. The course is in fantastic condition and you need to shape your shots well and hopefully I will do the same for the rest of the week.”
Ratcliffe, the 2000 Senior Tour Order of Merit winner, would have had a share of the lead with his compatriot Fowler had it not been for a bogey on the 18th hole which saw him drop back to a share of second with Lyle on four under par.
They were joined by Russell, winner of the De Vere Collection PGA Seniors Championship last year, who carded a pair of birdies on the second and third hole and the 15th and 16th holes.
Former Ryder Cup players Sam Torrance and Barry Lane are tied for 13th position after opening with rounds of 70, while 1991 Masters Champion Ian Woosnam is in a share of 25th place on one over par after a 73.