From Brian Keogh in Ballyliffin
Wine buff Bob Charles uncorked a vintage performance to beat his age and the wild weather in the Irish Seniors Open at wind-lashed Ballyliffin.
The elegant left-hander, 72, broke his age by a shot as he matched tournament favourites Sam Torrance, Des Smyth and defending champion Costantino Rocca with a level par 71.
American Alan Tapie, 59, got the best of the early conditions as he hit a brilliant four-under par 67 to lead by two shots from Italy’s Giusppe Cali and Argentina’s Luis Carbonetti.
But as the rain rolled in from the west and the wind blew hard, New Zealander Charles brought back memories of his breakthrough Open Championship victory at Royal Lytham in 1963 to grab a share of sixth place.
Asked the secret of his success, Charles beamed: “Moderation is my motto. I don’t go to excess on anything. A little bit of this and a little bit of that.
“I have a glass of white and a glass of red in the evenings, sometimes I have two glasses of red. I drink wine and water, nothing else. I think tea and coffee are more poisonous than anything else.”
A stiff west wind made scoring tough on the revamped Old Links as just five players in the 75-man field broke par.
Argentina’s Alfonso Barrera and England’s Gordon J Brand hit one under par 70s to share fourth place, but it was a struggle for marquee names Sandy Lyle and Ian Woosnam, who had to settle for rounds of 73 and 76.
Even grizzled Scot Torrance and links specialist Smyth were forced to battle back to match par on a day when the 25 mph west wind and squally afternoon showers caused major problems.
Despite suffering from the cold, Charles feels that if he can “run the tables” on the greens, he has every chance of giving the “youngsters” a run for their money and capture his first title in 10 years.
Freezing at the finish after a round that featured three birdies and three bogeys, Charles said: “I think it’s a lovely golf course but I hate playing in such lousy weather. It’s rained every day and the wind hasn’t stopped blowing.
“It’s cold. I came here to escape the winter in New Zealand yet the winter in New Zealand is probably better than this.
“But I love playing links. We’ve played three in a row now and, of course, we are looking forward to playing in Troon in a few weeks time.
“I made a decent start. The sun was shining and I played a few decent golf shots. It was a bit of a struggle when the wind got up later in the round, then it started to rain and it got cold, keeping my hands warm and the body warm was of prime consideration.”
Smyth is the best of the Irish on level par after mixing two birdies on the front nine with back nine birdies at the 12th and 16th.
A bad bounce at the par-five 18th, where his drive hit the head of a rake and kicked into a pot bunker, cost him the chance to finish with a birdie.
But he knows that he will have to play a lot better if he is to capture his first Irish Seniors title and his third European Seniors Tour crown.
He said: “I felt I played okay but I got off to a bad start. Overall, 71 is okay but you’d prefer to be shooting a bit lower.
“I’ve enjoyed myself but I need to get my swing back. I go back to the States next week and I need to pick it up. I’ve just been playing badly.
“I’ve got a technical flaw, I was tilting my shoulder a lot and trying to swing this way and it was causing me all sorts of problems.”
Two-time major winner Lyle was three over par after three holes as he was outscored by playing partner Charles by two shots - 73 to 71.
Amazed by Charles, Lyle said: “He stuffed me again. That’s two weeks in a row.”
But it was just as tough for Woosnam, who played the course blind and struggled with with a hip injury en route to a 76.
Gunning for a low second round, Woosnam said: “I am not okay. I am like that every day at the moment, I am really struggling. It keeps going into spasm all the time and it was hurting today.
"I was doing alright to start with but it got windier later on and it was a struggle. I just didn't play well.
"It is a super golf course. But as I said, I had five over par but it is a golf course where you can shoot five under par so I have got to rely on doing that."
Denis O'Sullivan is the next best of the Irish on one-over par after a 72 and he reckons that Ballyliffin would be a brilliant venue for the Irish Open on the main tour.
He said: "It is a great place. What fascinates me is that we had 100 people at ten to eight this morning. I couldn't believe it. The car park was half full and that never happens. They are so enthusiastic, it's great."
Irish Seniors Open in association with Failte Ireland and Allied Irish Bank scores after round one:
67 A Tapie (USA) ;
69 G Cali (Ita) ; L Carbonetti (Arg) ;
70 G Brand (Eng) ; A Barrera (Arg) ;
71 B Charles (Nzl) ; M Piñero (Esp) ; D Good (Aus) ; J Quiros (Esp) ; S Torrance (Sco) ; C Rocca (Ita) ; N Job (Eng) ; K Tomori (Jpn) ; S Owen (Nzl) ; B Longmuir (Sco) ; D Smyth (Irl) ;
72 J Bland (RSA) ; A Sowa (Arg) ; B Cameron (Eng) ; J Chillas (Sco) ; D Merriman (Aus) ; T Charnley (Eng) ; D Russell (Eng) ; D O'Sullivan (Irl) ;
73 L Higgins (Irl) ; B Heuchan (Can) ; J Hoskison (Eng) ; D Cambridge (Jam) ; S Lyle (Sco) ; A Garrido (Esp) ; E Rodriguez (Esp) ; T Rastall (Eng) ; B Lincoln (RSA) ; A Murray (Eng) ; J Rhodes (Eng) ; T Giedeon (Ger) ; R Drummond (Sco) ; J Sallat (Fra) ;
74 P O'Hagan (Irl) ; B Larratt (Eng) ; H Carbonetti (Arg) ; A Franco (Par) ; K Spurgeon (Eng) ; E Polland (Nir) ; T Johnstone (Zim) ; T Allen (Eng) ; S Ginn (Aus) ; P Dugeny (Fra) ; J Rivero (Esp) ; E McMenamin (am) (Irl) ;
75 T Gale (Aus) ; G Encina (Chi) ; A Fernandez (Chi) ; S Ebihara (Jpn) ; M Poxon (Eng) ; C Mason (Eng) ; G McGimpsey (am) (Nir) ;
76 J Heggarty (Nir) ; J Hall (Eng) ; D Hospital (Esp) ; T Price (Wal) ; I Woosnam (Wal) ;
77 B Boyd (USA) ; M Miller (Sco) ; J Benda (USA) ; E Darcy (Irl) ; M Bembridge (Eng) ; P Leonard (Nir) ; P Teravainen (USA) ; V Smyth (am) (Irl) ;
78 P Oakley (USA) ; J Bruner (USA) ;
80 I Mosey (Eng) ; M Gray (Sco) ;
83 G Hopkins (USA)