Gordon Brand Jnr overcame punishing conditions to seize a two stroke lead in the first round of the Van Lanschot Senior Open in The Netherlands, carding a battling one under par 71.
The former Ryder Cup player finished in the top five in both of his previous appearances in the tournament, but found a very different Royal Haagsche Golf & Country Club due to strong winds in The Hague.
After starting with a birdie on the first, the 53 year old Scot dropped a shot on the fourth after mis-clubbing as the wind intensified. He then holed back-to-back 15ft birdie putts on the tenth and 11th holes to move back into red figures, but then dropped a shot on the 13th after missing a five foot par putt.
With the wind speeds exceeding 30mph, Brand Jnr was the only player to break par and he holds two stroke advantage over a group of five players, which includes former PGA Champion Andrew Oldcorn.
“It was a good round,” said Brand Jnr. “It was very hard work. but I up and downed it well today. No matter how well you played out there it was tough to get up and down but I seemed to do it well and seemed to have reasonable control of the ball.
“That was the key given the conditions. It was incredibly windy out there.
“I’ve got a good record round here, but it played completely differently today. I’m not saying it is ever easy here, but that was probably as hard as the course could play without it being unplayable. It’s a links course though so at least you can play it a bit linksy. A 71 is a great score.”
The eight-time European Tour winner has made a relatively modest start to the 2012, recording his only top ten finish so far in the Mallorca Open Senior, but he feels his liking of Royal Haagsche Golf & Country Club could lead to a better week.
“I’ve not played that badly but I have scored badly and I’ve not seemed to get any momentum going. Today momentum was staying around par and I just played very well.
“The goal this week was just to perform better. I’ve been wasting shots and getting frustrated. These conditions maybe helped as I knew I’d have to save a few pars and I was pleased with how I achieve that.
“The course suits me. I don’t like these big open fairways, I like small enclosed ones. I play a lot of my better golf on tight courses. It seems to give me a better focus.”
Oldcorn, who finished runner up to George Ryall in the inaugural event two years ago, began brightly, opening with a birdie on the first hole and picking up another shot on the seventh hole.
However, he dropped three shots on the back nine and finish on one over par 73 for a share second place with English pair John Gould and Jeff Hall, Spaniard Domingo Hospital and Australian Terry Price.
“It’s difficult to assess how I feel about that round really because I played so well the front nine and then got on the tenth in two but as we were walking up it rolled off the green,” he said.
“I then duffed a chip and made a six. I lost a bit of momentum then and started trying to guide my tee shots a bit because of the wind. It was a tough day.
“I think if you break 70 here today you have played out of your skin. Having ground out a front nine it was disappointing to do what I did on the tenth. That threw me a bit and I hit a couple of poor drives on the back nine which were straight off bogeys. I was lucky to even make bogey and I just ground it in. I didn’t play great, I didn’t play awful. It was just a tough day so I’m quite pleased.
“I probably would have taken one over from the start.”
Gould had been setting the pace and looked breaking par after birdieing the 13th hole to go to two under par. However he finished with three consecutive bogeys to drop back and he also settled for a one over par 73.
Irishman Des Smyth, who fired a closing 65 to win by two shots last year, began his defence of the title with a two over par 74, while former Masters Champion Ian Woosnam was one shot further back following a 75.