After threatening to establish a commanding lead on the opening day of the ISPS HANDA PGA Seniors Championship, Des Smyth ultimately had to settle for a share of top spot with Gordon J Brand on six under par.
The pair both signed for rounds of 67 at De Vere Mottram Hall, in Cheshire, although it could have been much better for Smyth who closed his round with three straight bogeys, having posted seven birdies and an eagle through his first 15 holes.
However, the five-time European Senior Tour winner was still pleased with a fine opening round.
“I played great, I really did,” explained the Irishman. “I got off to a great start then nothing much happened until the eighth hole, where I chipped in from the back of the green, and that really got my round going. Standing on the 16th tee I thought I could shoot ten under or better, but that’s golf for you – it gives and it takes away.
“I feel good about my game. If ever you can be disappointed with a 67, then I guess today was that day. But if you’d offered me six under at the start of the day, I definitely would’ve taken it.”
Smyth is tied alongside Brand, the champion of this event in 2008 who fired a flawless round in the morning to lead for much of the day.
The Englishman kept the bogeys off his card and having not played on the European Senior Tour since the Fubon Open last November, was understandably delighted with his first foray of the 2013 campaign.
He said: “I putted really well today, and played steady. The greens were rolling at a nice pace and once I’d started rolling a few in, my confidence and belief grew and a birdie at the last was a nice way to finish a very pleasing day.
“I had no idea how today would go but I’ve been practising well over the winter, so I was hopeful that I’d play well, and so it proved.”
Paul Wesselingh, who won this event 12 months ago, is also handily placed after a strong start at a venue where he won his first professional event, the PGA North Region Championship, back in 1994. The highlight of his day came at the par five 13th, which he eagled en route to a five under par round of 68.
Since winning the ISPS Handa PGA Seniors Championship 12 months ago in only his third start on the Senior Tour, Wesselingh has gone from strength to strength, and is clearly enjoying the responsibility that comes with such a life-changing victory.
He said: “It’s nice to come out here as I suppose people want to be closer to you and want more of me, which is lovely as I’ve never been in that situation before. It definitely has changed my life and obviously I’m no longer a club pro now, I play for a living, which is great.
“It was a great start with four birdies in the first five holes, which settled me down as I was actually a little bit nervous when I got announced as the defending champion on the first tee.”
One stroke further back is Scotland’s Bill Longmuir and former Ryder Cup Captains Mark James and Sam Torrance, who was pleased with his round after a long lay-off from competitive action.
He said: “I haven’t played for seven months, which is probably the longest lay-off I’ve had in my 43 years as a professional golfer. So it was difficult to gauge how I’d play, and although there was a little bit of rust in the system I was pretty pleased with how I played overall.
“It’s my first time here, and the course is very nice. But it’s playing very firm, so you’ve got to be very precise with your tee shots to hold the fairways and then find the greens with your second shots. If you stray into the rough, it’s pretty difficult to make par from there.”
Other notable performances also came from Ireland’s Phillip Walton, who posted a three under par round of 70, while his 1995 Ryder Cup teammate Ian Woosnam signed for a 72.
Woosnam said: “It played pretty easy out there in the conditions, but unfortunately I didn’t play well enough to take advantage. I only got back from the States on Tuesday night, so I’m still feeling a bit jetlagged and it was a bit of a struggle out there at times today.
“I really struggled to find any rhythm, which was a shame because I played really well in the States last week, especially in the final round. But hopefully I’ll get a decent night’s sleep tonight and can work my way into the tournament tomorrow.”