England’s Jamie Spence (pictured by Getty Images) fired a bogey-free 67 to hit the front following the first round of the English Senior Open at Rockliffe Hall.
Spence, who joined the Senior ranks last year after a profitable European Tour career which yielded two victories, made an unblemished five birdies – including four in five holes around the turn – to seize a one-shot lead over Zimbabwean Tony Johnstone (68).
Two back following the opening exchanges in County Durham were Argentinian Cesar Monasterio, American Gary Rusnak and Englishmen DJ Russell and Chris Williams.
With the English Bank Holiday weekend encouraging an excellent attendance at Rockliffe Hall on Friday – as was the case when the tournament returned to the Senior Tour roster after a six-year absence last October – the North East faithful were rewarded with some fine golf, not least from Spence.
“I played nicely today and it could have been even better,” said the 51 year old Tunbridge Wells native. “But it could have also been higher because I got up and down when I needed to. So it was a little frustrating but as golfers we always want more.
“I was getting irritated on the front nine because I hadn’t made birdie but fortunately I am a very patient man! I had it on the green in two on the long fourth with a really good five iron but three putted; at the seventh I chipped it up to within four feet and missed.
“So I was really annoyed and that spurred me on to the two birdies before the turn before a great up and down at ten as well. I managed to grab a couple more on 11 and 12 and then the birdie at 17 was the best of the day because that was playing very long today.”
Former Chairman of The European Tour’s Tournament Committee, Spence has recently shown encouraging signs of a return to the sort of form that once saw him shoot 60 in the final round to win the 1992 European Masters, but is refusing to get ahead of himself just yet.
“It’s one round of golf, it’s a never ending battle!” continued Spence, who finished tied fourth at the Bad Ragaz PGA Seniors Open in July and tied sixth last week at the SSE Scottish Senior Open.
“I am too long in the tooth, so I realise that one round doesn’t mean anything. I could have a 75 tomorrow and I will be kicking myself!
“But I’m happy. I have got my old caddie with me, a Scouser called Mark Stears, who used to be with me on Tour. He has come out with me for four weeks this year and we had a bit of success together in the past so it’s nice to have him out with me again.”
The lead might have been Johnstone’s but for a calamitous 16th, where a double bogey seven on the par five preceded a flying birdie-birdie finish.
“I hit a perfect tee shot down the 16th and tried to lay-up but produced an absolutely god-awful shot straight left which ended up virtually unplayable,” said sometimes-Sky Sports commentator Johnstone, who last won on the Senior Tour five years ago.
“I had to hack out, get up to the green and then three-putted so I made a complete horses of the whole thing.
“But I hit the ball well all day and fortunately that returned on the finish. I hit a four iron to 15 feet at 17 and made that and 18 I hit a five iron to 20 feet and holed that, which was nice after the shambles at 16.
“Something just clicked this morning – I hit more good shots today than I have done all season!”
There was also a solid start on Friday from reigning Senior Tour Number One Paul Wesselingh, who opened with a two under par 70 – as did former Ryder Cup captain Mark James – to lie just three off the lead heading into the weekend at Rockliffe Hall.
Defending champion Steen Tinning, meanwhile, signed for a level par 72 to sit in a share of 30th place with 36 holes remaining.
FIRST ROUND SCORES
67 J Spence (Eng) ,
68 T Johnstone (Zim) ,
69 G Rusnak (USA) , D Russell (Eng) , C Williams (Eng) , C Monasterio (Arg) ,
70 P Wesselingh (Eng) , R Drummond (Sco) , K Tomori (Jpn) , M James (Eng) , P Curry (Eng) , J Carriles (Esp) , M Martin (Esp) , B Conser (USA) , M Cunning (USA) ,
71 G Wolstenholme (Eng) , S Luna (Esp) , J Quiros (Esp) , G Manson (Aut) , J Gould (Eng) , A Murray (Eng) , M Farry (Fra) , B Lane (Eng) , G Brand Jnr (Sco) , R Arnott (Sco) , D Smyth (Irl) , D O’Sullivan (Irl) ,
72 P Jonas (Can) , M Bianco (Ita) , A Oldcorn (Sco) , T Thelen (USA) , S Tinning (Den) , P Linhart (Esp) , A Bossert (Sui) , G Bell (Eng) , A Franco (Par) , P Golding (Eng) ,
73 T Price (Aus) , R Gibson (Can) , M Davis (Eng) , P Fowler (Aus) , J Berendt (Arg) , L Carbonetti (Arg) , M McLean (Eng) ,
74 J Bruner (USA) , G Ryall (Eng) , P Eales (Eng) , B Cameron (Eng) , P Walton (Irl) , J Smith (USA) , R Rafferty (Nir) , I Woosnam (Wal) , M Harwood (Aus) , P Way (Eng) ,
75 J Sallat (Fra) , S Cipa (Eng) , S Torrance (Sco) , A Sherborne (Eng) , D Durnian (Eng) , N Job (Eng) , G Brand (Eng) ,
76 K Spurgeon (Eng) , M Mackenzie (Eng) , G Emerson (Eng) ,
77 R Roper (Eng) , C Mason (Eng) , S Brown (Eng) , J Harrison (Eng) , W Grant (Eng) ,
80 B Longmuir (Sco) , N Ratcliffe (Aus) ,
** J Remesy (Fra)
Source: European Tour