German legend Bernhard Langer showed ominous form on the opening morning of The Senior Open Championship Presented by Rolex, firing a flawless six under par 64 to surge to the top of the early leaderboard at Turnberry.
And while much of the build-up to the 26th staging of the Championship being held this week on the renowned Ailsa Course at Turnberry has focussed on England’s Roger Chapman – winner of both Senior Major Championships so far this season – it was Langer grabbing the headlines midway through the first round.
The 54 year old’s game looked impressive across the board, finding birdies at the second, third and seventh holes to turn in 32 blows, with further red numbers on the short 11th, par four 12th, and long 17th helping Langer into a two shot lead as Thursday progressed.
“I’m very pleased with the way I played today,” said Langer. “I played smart, played well, hit some good drives, good iron shots and made a few putts, maybe even left a couple of putts out there, as well. But overall, it was very solid. No blemishes.
“The only trouble really I had was the 18th. I drove it in the fairway bunker but I had checked it out in practice, that bunker is maybe the only one on the whole golf course where you have a chance to reach the green. I didn't reach the green but I got close enough to get it up and down.”
Langer, who finished in a tie for 12th in last year’s event at Walton Heath, claimed his maiden Senior Major two years ago when he completed a wire-to-wire victory at Carnoustie in 2010, a victory he described as “one of the highlights of my career”.
It was also one that propelled the ten-times Ryder Cup player onto a second Major triumph the following week when he won the US Senior Open at Sahalee Country Club, and the Anhausen man looked to have brought his fine season form to Scotland this week.
In all three of his appearances on the European Senior Tour this year Langer has finished in the top five, narrowly missing out on a third Senior Major when he surrendered a four shot lead in the final round of the US Senior Open, eventually finishing tied for second as Chapman seized his second Major title in succession at Indianwood in Michigan.
“It still hurts and it's going to hurt a while,” he reflected. “That's golf. Roger played a great round of golf and I can't take that away from him. It was my tournament to win or to lose, and I just didn't perform well enough on Sunday.
“But I took a lot of positives away from it. It was some of the best golf I've played in my whole life.”
Despite having never won an Open Championship during a glittering career that has yielded 42 European Tour titles – including two Masters titles in 1985 and 1993 – Langer retains a good record on links courses and in the aforementioned Championship, having finished in the top ten on eight occasions, including two second place finishes at the 1981 and 1984 Opens.
Langer also finished in a tie for third when Turnberry hosted The Open in 1986 as Greg Norman stormed to his first Claret Jug, so the Ailsa has long suited the German’s eye.
He said: “It's playing very long. Someone said this course is playing longer than they played last week at The Open Championship.
“But I like links golf. It's just fun to hit off that kind of turf and you really have to think your way around some of these golf courses, not just hit driver, blast it away and find it and hit it again. That's what makes it so much fun.”
Michael Allen, winner of the 1989 Scottish Open, had a rip-roaring finish on the Ailsa Course, finding an eagle at the long 17th before birdieing the closing par four to close two shots behind Langer and alongside Taiwan’s Lu Chien Soon with a four under par 66, a round made all the more impressive considering the American has been battling illness in recent days.
“I've really been kind of sick all week,” said Allen. “It was kind of nice because it kept me from getting out and overdoing it.
“I played beautiful the front nine, a few mistakes in the middle, and a great finish. I hit two good shots on 17; I couldn't quite get over the hill with my second so came up just short and made about a 70 foot putt there from just off the green for eagle.”
Tony Johnstone of Zimbabwe, often to be heard commentating on Sky Sports Golf, finished a shot further back after signing for a three under par 67.
“It was just probably the most complete golf I've played in probably 18 months, two years, I just struck the ball fantastically,” said Johnstone. “Funny enough, I didn't hit it great at all yesterday and just found something in the last five balls on the range last night.
“I thought about it overnight and when I came out this morning it was still working, and away you go, hallelujah!”
Argentina’s Eduardo Romero was four under par as he reached the 18th but contrived to make double bogey after finding the fairway bunker from tee. The 57 year old splashed out of the sand before three-putting the green to finish the first round at two under par, alongside the man who defeated him in a play-off the last time The Senior Open was held at Turnberry in 2006.