Peter Fowler and Mike Harwood both fired five under par opening rounds of 68 to make it an Australian tie at the top of the leaderboard in the ISPS Handa Senior Masters presented by The Stapleford Forum.
Harwood set the target after carding six birdies and just the single bogey on the 13th hole before Fowler, playing in the group behind, matched it posting five birdies after holing a 20ft eagle putt on the par five second hole.
The friends, who practice together, are sharing a house close to the Stapleford Park course in Melton Mowbray, England, and will now be paired in the final group for the second round after establishing a one stroke lead over Scotland’s Andrew Oldcorn.
“This is a good course for Peter as well as me so he will be hard to beat,” said Harwood. “He will do well this week. We play together every practice round and are staying together this week so it will be good fun to play together tomorrow.”
Both players are looking to build on strong starts to the 2011 season, Harwood having recorded top five finishes in Australia and Brunei and Fowler so far posting three top ten finishes including runner up to Sandy Lyle the ISPS Handa Senior World Championship presented by Mission Hills China.
Harwood could also have finished in the top 20 in last week’s US Senior PGA Championship had it not been for a final round triple bogey on the 16th hole followed by wrongly signing for a par on the 17th when he made birdie, meaning he lost four shots in two holes for a 72 to drop to 39th.
“I played very well last week and when you play well over there against really good players it gives you a lift mentally coming in here,” said Harwood.
“I’ve made some really good changes to my game which are working. Visually you wouldn’t see them but I’ve played really well the last six months. My scoring average is probably in the high 60s which is where I want it to be.”
Fowler, who also made the cut in last week’s US Senior PGA Championship, is also optimistic about his chances of a maiden European Senior Tour title over the weekend.
“I had a good practice last week so I’m feeling pretty good in my second tournament back after a month off,” said Fowler, who turns 51 next Thursday.
“You have to be able to score well and I didn’t do that last week and finished 66th so putting well is key to having a really good tournament and I did that today. I’m not surprised that Mike Harwood is up there as he’s great at scoring.
“Mike is a good friend and we’ve known each other a long time. It’s always fun to play together. The last time we did was in the Tasmania Open earlier this year. He beat me that day so it’s my turn tomorrow.”
Putting pressure on the two Australians will be Oldcorn, who would have also tied at the top of the leaderboard had it not been for a closing bogey. That meant he signed for a 69, which included a fine run of four consecutive birdies from the fourth hole.
“The front nine I had a great chance to have a really low one which I felt was in there today with the way I putted before the turn,” said the 2001 PGA Champion. “I had probably more chances on the back nine and missed every one of them then I bogeyed the last. So it’s disappointing to finish like that but overall I would have taken 69 to start with.”
Englishman David J Russell is a further shot back in fourth place on three under par while Welshman Mark Mouland, the highest finishing European on his debut in last week’s US Senior PGA Championship, is one of five players on two under par.
Ian Woosnam, the former World Number One, closed with a double bogey six to sign for a level par 73 having birdied the 15th and 16th holes.
Another former Ryder Cup Captain, Sam Torrance, is a shot further back in a share of 28th place after a one over par opening round 74, alongside Carl Mason, winner of a record breaking 24 Senior Tour titles.
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