Gary Wolstenholme soared to the overnight lead in the Benahavis Senior Masters after a six under par opening round of 65 at La Quinta Golf and Country Club in the south of Spain.
The Englishman is chasing his first win of the 2011 European Senior Tour season and also remains in pole position for the Rookie of the Year award and he did his chances of achieving both accolades no harm as he tore up the front nine on the way to a one shot lead.
His five birdies in a flawless front nine included a run of three on the trot from the seventh hole and while he did bogey the 13th hole, birdies on the 14th and the 17th atoned for that and saw him take to the summit, above Adan Sowa and John Gould in tied second place.
“I'm really pleased, 65 is always a good score, particularly around this course. I putted quite well, my only bogey was a bit of a silly one on 13 but generally I kept it together well,” said the six-time Walker Cup player, who finished with a double-bogey then bogey in the final round of the Belas Clube de Campo Senior Open de Portugal two weeks ago having been in contention until the final stretch.
“Portugal was difficult but funnily enough I played well, I had six birdies, it was a good round of golf except for three holes.
“I dropped four shots in that round for two under so realistically I played quite well and I didn’t feel that bad about it. Obviously I was disappointed because it was a chance to win but I was pleased for Mark Mouland to win there because he’s a new man on the tour and I can relate to him and claiming his first win.”
Mouland was only two shots back after the first round in Benahavis, in fourth place, and after the Welshman’s victory in Portugal put him just €45,996 behind in the race for Rookie of the Year, Wolstenholme admitted that he is feeling the pressure.
“Obviously he’s challenging for the Rookie of the Year award and that’s something I’d like to achieve, I saw him on the leaderboard and I felt I had to have a decent round myself so all in all, it was a good round of golf,” continued the 51 year old, who won the 2010 Casa Serena Open on the way to sealing a full card for the 2011 season.
Argentinian Sowa, meanwhile, shot to the top of the leaderboard earlier in the day after he holed his eight iron approach for an eagle two at the 451 yard par four third hole, following that with three consecutive birdies on the eighth, ninth and tenth holes before going bogey-birdie on the 13th and 14th to card a five under par 66.
“I played very well today, the eagle was a bit lucky but it was a great feeling,” said the 57 year old, who has had five top 20 finishes this year.
“I like it here, it’s a nice course but there are still two more rounds to go so we will see what happens.”
Gould also had an eagle, as well as five birdies and two bogeys, on the way to his round of 66 as the Englishman followed on from his best finish of the year at Belas, where he was tied sixth.
The victor in Portugal, Mouland, was a shot further back after a bogey-free round of 67 which means that he has now gone three consecutive rounds without a single blemish.
“That’s three rounds that I've had no bogeys so I'm just playing really solid golf, I had four birdies and didn’t do anything wrong,” said the two-time European Tour winner.
“It was less a case of bringing the form from Portugal, more a case of bringing the swimming pool and sun form from my holiday last week!
“I rented a villa nearby La Quinta so had a little bit of practice and had a bit of fun too. I'm just carrying on from where I left off in terms of confidence though, I love it in the heat so it definitely suits me.”
Mark James was in fifth place after a three under par round of 68 which included six birdies while Barry Lane finished tied 13th after a one under par 70 as he tries to close the gap on Senior Tour Order of Merit leader Peter Fowler, who finished the opening round in Spain with a one over par 72 to sit tied 31st.