South Africa’s Chris Williams (pictured by Getty Images) had a hot putter to thank as he carded a superb nine under par 63 to race into a three shot lead after the first round of the Senior Open de Portugal at Vidago Palace.
The 55 year old from Edenvale holed a 40 footer and six more putts outside ten feet en route to posting his lowest score since joining the European Senior Tour at the start of 2009.
Williams goes into the second round with a healthy advantage over the second placed Carl Mason and Gary Wolstenhome, while he is some four in front of Andrew Murray, Boonchu Ruangkit, Gary Rusnak, Des Smyth and Steen Tinning who are all tied for fourth after carding five under par rounds of 67.
Phil Golding, Cesar Monasterio, Juan Quiros, Tim Thelen, and Greg Turner are in a share of ninth after opening rounds of 68, while Michael McLean, Jose Rivero, DJ Russell and Jerry Smith are a shot further adrift on a day when 37 players broke par.
Williams sank an 18 foot putt for birdie on the first that set the tone for the rest of the day, swiftly following it with successful efforts from 15 feet on the second and from 40 for an eagle on the fourth, before three successive gains from the seventh completed a five under front nine of 31.
He would hole from ten feet for birdie on the 12th, and again from a similar distance on the 13th, before a miss from short range for eagle on the penultimate hole. He would put that disappointment behind him though as he headed down the last, rolling in for a closing birdie that set a formidable first round target for the field to aim at over the weekend.
“That putt at the fourth was the longest of the day but there were quite a few other good ones as well,” he said. “I have been playing well for most of the season. I think I have been in the top ten heading into the last round of every tournament I’ve played but the difference today was that I holed a lot of putts and you need to do that if you are going to score this low.
“I drove well and hit my irons nicely but the real key was my putting. It was exceptional. I don’t think it has been that good for several years.
“I’m not surprised the scoring is so low. I think it’s going to be a birdie fest over the weekend so I’m going to have to shoot two more low scores if I want to be in contention on Sunday afternoon.”
Mason has won a record 25 titles on the European Senior Tour but he is the first to admit he has not been firing on all cylinders over the last few weeks.
The Englishman started his round with five straight pars before birdies at the sixth and the eighth saw him reach the turn in 34. He would also birdie the 11th before producing his shot of the day – a holed 123 yard wedge shot – for an eagle two a couple of holes later.
He would drop a shot on the 16th, but closed with two birdies to complete his lowest round of the 2014 season.
“That was a bit like the old days,” he said. “I haven’t been enjoying my golf over the last few weeks but today was much better. I drove the ball very well, hit a lot of crisp irons and my putting was much better as well.
Mason attributed his improved putting to a lesson he got earlier in the week from his son, Andrew: “He noticed I was standing a bit more open than normal so I squared myself up a bit and suddenly they started rolling better.
“I did miss a couple early in the round but I holed my fair share after that.”
Wolstenholme finished third behind Mark Mouland the last time the Senior Tour visited Portugal back in 2011, and he is on course for another high finish, after a 66 that included three birdies on the outward nine and another four coming home.
The former British Amateur Champion was level par through the first five holes, but holed from a greenside bunker for a birdie on the sixth, before adding two further red numbers on the eighth and ninth.
He also went on to birdie the 14th and 15th, and while he would also drop a shot at the 16th, he did not let that upset him too much as he finished with two further gains on the final couple of holes.
“This is a good course for me,” he said. “It is quite long but you have to hit the ball straight and that plays to my strengths.
“I’ve been working hard on my game for the last few weeks and it is starting to pay off. I noticed I was swaying away from the ball and that was causing the odd shot to go straight to the left. It’s still not one hundred percent but it’s a lot better than it was.
“The key to the round was probably the bunker shot at the sixth because that got me going. I suppose you could say it was a fortunate but you need a bit of luck to shoot low scores and I haven’t been getting much this season.
“I have always liked coming to Portugal. I feel very comfortable in this country and I’m looking forward to the weekend.”
As for Ian Woosnam, he birdied the last, but could only manage a five over par 77 to finish the first day well down the field in a tie for 66th place.
Source: European Tour