Brian Keogh in Ballyliffin
It could hardly be described a miraculous performance for a man who limits his liquid intake to water and wine. But even by his own high standards, Bob Charles’ level par 71 in the opening round of the Irish Seniors Open at wind-blown Ballyliffin was a truly vintage performance.
It was the fifth time that the elegant, 72-year-old left-hander from New Zealand has beaten his age in his last ten rounds of golf, yet given the first round scoring average of 73.76 and the fact that he matched tournament favourites such as Sam Torrance and Des Smyth and left Sandy Lyle and Ian Woosnam trailing in his wake, it was still a masterly display from a golfing icon.
Playing partner Lyle, three-over par after just three holes, did well in the end to card a two over par 73 that left him six shots adrift of American Alan Tapie, who carded a superb 67 in the first group of the day to lead by two strokes from from Italy’s Giuseppe Cali and Argentina’s Luis Carbonetti.
The sun shone brightly early on before the west wind puffed hard from midday, lashing the gnarly Old Links with squally showers and allowing just five players in the 75-man field to break par.
Argentina’s Alfonso Barrera and England’s Gordon J Brand carded rounds of 70 to share fourth place on one-under but it was a real struggle for Smyth and Torrance, who finished the day in an 11-man posse on level par with an injured Woosnam limping home in 76 with just one birdie on his card.
“This course is about as linksy as you can get,” said Tapie, who had six birdies and just one bogey in his 67. “You get all different lies on the fairways. It’s a good test. You’ll be lucky to go all three days and not find any trouble out here.”
The first left-hander to win a Major, the 1963 Open Championship at Royal Lytham, Charles has seen and done it all in the course of a 48-year professional career.
After carding three birdies and three bogeys, he was asked the secret of his impressive longevity at the end of a working week that brought the announcement that Tiger Woods will not play again this year due to injury.
Having played with all the greats of the game from Gene Sarazen and Henry Cotton to Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus, Charles said: “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.”
The New Zealander is a huge admirer of Woods’ “tremendous short game” and impressive length off the tee, adding the rider: “I’ve seen a lot of better golf swings than he’s got. But obviously it’s effective.”
The greatest player he ever saw was Ben Hogan, “because he had incredible control of the golf ball.” Warming to his subject, Charles explained: “His swing was so grooved he could shape shots and position the ball where he wanted it. Perhaps he didn’t have the greatest short game but as far as precision goes from tee to green, he was the best.”
Charles play from tee to green was superlative yesterday and he believes that if he can “run the tables” on the greens he still has a chance of upsetting the “youngsters” and recording his first win in a decade.
Given the character of the Old Links, designed by God and "enchanced" by Nick Faldo two years ago, it could be a week for one of the old masters to take us back in time.
Irish Seniors Open (in association with Failte Ireland and Allied Irish Bank)
Ballyliffin GC, Old Links (Par 71)
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)