Carl Mason’s bid for an unprecedented fourth victory in the ISPS HANDA PGA Seniors Championship got off to the ideal start with an opening round of 68 which earned the Englishman a share of the lead.
Mason birdied the tough closing hole at Close House to finish on three under par alongside his compatriot Gary Emerson, in-form Australian Peter Fowler and Frenchman Jean Pierre Sallat.
Mason, who took the title in 2004, 2007 and 2009, is now without a victory in the over-50s ranks for four years, but he rolled back the years with a vintage display in perfect conditions in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
The Senior Tour’s most prolific winner raced out of the blocks with a trio of successive birdies from the second hole, although his early momentum was checked with a bogey on the sixth.
Having cancelled out that blemish with a birdie on the eighth hole, he came home in level par 35 to put an early marker down.
Mason said: “That was very nice. I didn’t really know what to expect as I’d only played the course in the Pro-Am, but luckily I remember where to hit it and, more importantly, where not to hit it.
“I holed some very nice putts early on, and suddenly I was three under after four which was a shock – a nice shock. I hit it steady all the way through, so I was pleased with that.
“The 18th is a very tough finishing hole, because you can easily hit a good shot in there and still go through the green. So I guarded against that, and it was lovely to finish with a birdie.”
Fowler arrived in the north-east of England on the back of his victory in the Acorn Jersey Open, and promptly continued his rich vein of form with three birdies in a flawless display.
The four-time Senior Tour champion, who celebrated his 56th birthday on Tuesday, got off to the perfect start with an opening birdie. But Fowler then had to bide his time for the next gain, which eventually arrived at the 14th hole, and he would add another at the 16th to finish on three under.
Fowler, who moved up to third place on the Senior Tour Order of Merit following his triumph last week, said: “I was very steady today, hit a lot of fairways and greens. My team also won the Pro-Am, so I seem to like this place so far!
“It’s a beautiful development, the course is in great shape and the set-up is very good. I’m staying here as well, and the rooms are outstanding. It’s in great condition, and there’s a nice ambience around the whole place.”
In contrast to Fowler, Emerson – who is seeking to secure his maiden Senior Tour title this week – was disappointed with his display in Jersey where, by his own admission, he putted poorly en route to a tied 53rd place finish.
But the Englishman enjoyed a far more productive day on the greens, turning in 34 courtesy of birdies at the 11th and 16th holes before adding three more gains on his back nine to sign for the lowest round of his season so far.
Emerson said: “It’s a very tricky course, and a lot of patience is needed. So I’m pleased, I played solid golf and also putted a lot better than I did in Jersey last week.
“I just tried to play fairly conservatively and put the ball in the right places, pars aren’t a bad score on most holes out there.
“The course is in very good condition but it is getting quite fiery, so if the sun shines and it firms up even more over the next few days, it could play very tough.”
Late in the day, Sallat made it a four-way tie at the top after closing with a brace of birdies from the eighth hole.
Despite opening with a bogey on the tenth hole, the Frenchman gained ground with a superb eagle on the 16th, and that late birdie burst ensured he would enter round two harbouring realistic hopes of securing a debut Senior Tour title.