Ryder Cup vice-captain Des Smyth holed a snaking 25 birdie putt on the 18th green to take the early lead at the ISPS Handa Seniors PGA Championship at the Stoke by Nayland Golf, Hotel & Spa, writes the European Senior Tour.
Smyth had key-hole surgery to ‘clean up’ a troublesome knee problem a couple of months ago and has not played much golf in the build up to the new Senior Tour season.
“Maybe that’s the secret – play less golf!” he smiled after signing for a five under par 67 to take a one stroke lead over 2013 Senior Rookie of the Year, Steen Tinning of Denmark.
Both Smyth and Tinning made four birdies in their first five holes during round one, but while Tinning followed that up with 13 straight pars, Smyth dropped a shot at nine before bouncing back straight away with a sublime chip-in on the tenth.
“I have to admit I would have taken your hand off for a four when I was looking that chip,” said Smyth. “But it was one of those days where I got a couple of breaks and when you get those breaks all of a sudden you find yourself leading the tournament.
“It was a very enjoyable day and a great start for me. I honestly had no clue what to expect this week as I haven’t played much since that little procedure on my knee so I am delighted to be in the lead.”
The Irishman is relishing the chance to be one of Paul McGinley’s lieutenants when Europe defence The Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in September, but he is also looking forward to a summer of playing good golf before he throws himself into The Ryder Cup.
“The Ryder Cup is something so big these days that it is a great honour to be involved and when the captain asks you for some help as Paul has done with me then it is impossible to say no to that.
“It will be a great experience at Gleneagles but we have a bit of time until then and I would like to go there with a Senior Tour title or two under my belt – that would be very nice indeed.”
Smyth will face some stiff competition if he is to stay in front for the remaining 54 holes of the ISPS Handa Seniors PGA Championship, with Tinning followed closely on the leaderboard by some of the Senior Tour’s most formidable names.
Peter Fowler, the Order of Merit winner in 2012, leads a hugely talented pack of ten players tied on three under, just two off the lead. Also among that rank are former Ryder Cup Captain Mark James, Santiago Luna, Mark Mouland, Paul Eales, George Ryall, Jerry Smith, Andrew Murray and Jean-Pierre Sallat.
But it was to be Des’s day in the beautiful East Anglian countryside as the Irishman put himself in a great position to contend for what would be the sixth victory of his Senior career.
Warrenpoint's Ronan Rafferty is the next best of the Irishmen in action, tied for 14th after a one under 70 with Philip Walton tied 33rd after making three bogeys and an eagle three in a one over 72.
Cork's Denis O'Sullivan is tied 45th on two over after a 73.
Complete Round One Scores:
66 D Smyth (Irl);
67 S Tinning (Den);
68 P Fowler (Aus); S Luna (Esp); M James (Eng); J Smith (USA); P Eales (Eng); M Mouland (Wal); J Sallat (Fra); G Ryall (Eng); A Murray (Eng);
69 C Williams (Eng); J Quiros (Esp);
70 T Thelen (USA); W Grant (Eng); J Spence (Eng); B Cameron (Eng); G Emerson (Eng); A Mackenzie (Sco); G Bell (Eng); T Johnstone (Zim); R Rafferty (Nir); L Carbonetti (Arg);
71 P Linhart (Esp); P Mayo (Wal); G Marks (Eng); B Lane (Eng); R Gibson (Can); G Manson (Aut); M Cunning (USA); C Mason (Eng); C Monasterio (Arg);
72 G Brand Jnr (Sco); P Walton (Irl); G Wolstenholme (Eng); M Mackenzie (Eng); P Wesselingh (Eng); J Remesy (Fra); M Martin (Esp); M Farry (Fra); N Job (Eng); J Bruner (USA); M Bianco (Ita); T Lawrence (Eng);
73 S Bennett (Eng); R Sabarros (Fra); J Carriles (Esp); G Banister (Aus); A Sherborne (Eng); H Buhrmann (RSA); A Webster (Sco); P Golding (Eng); D Russell (Eng); J Harrison (Eng); D O'Sullivan (Irl); S Brown (Eng); A Bossert (Sui); S McAllister (Sco); A Oldcorn (Sco); A Franco (Par);
74 G Rusnak (USA); D Hospital (Esp); S Cipa (Eng); N Ratcliffe (Aus); R Arnott (Sco); K Kelsall (Sco); Z Martinez (USA);
75 B Sharrock (Eng); F Mann (Sco); P Gresswell (Eng); M Wharton (Eng); J Laforce (Can); B White (Eng); T Price (Aus); P Curry (Eng); R Masters (Eng); B Longmuir (Sco);
76 J Mathews (Eng); G Potter (Eng); J Lovell (Eng); A George (Eng); K Spurgeon (Eng); F Illouz (Fra); L Turner (Eng); R Fish (Eng); R Ellis (Eng);
77 J Gould (Eng); R Drummond (Sco); C Johnson (USA); J Pinsent (Eng); K Hutton (Sco); C Grenier (Aut); F Kiddie (Eng); G Davies (Wal); B Larratt (Eng); S Craig (Sco); R Williams (Wal); P Barber (Eng);
78 P Jonas (Can); T Rastall (Eng); M Piñero (Esp); J Hoskison (Eng); M Booth (Eng); M Squire (Eng); S McNally (Eng); R Adams (Eng); M Harwood (Aus);
79 P Way (Eng); P Walker (Eng);
80 K Phillips (Eng); B Marchbank (Sco); B Conser (USA); M McLean (Eng);
81 D Durnian (Eng); V Ross (Eng);
82 J Drummond (Eng); G Brand (Eng);
83 P Mitchell (Eng);
84 M Few (Eng);
87 K Worm (Den).