Des Smyth kick-started his bid for a third Travis Perkins Masters title with a superb six under par round, taking a one stroke lead at Woburn Golf Club.
The 2014 Ryder Cup vice-captain won the prestigious Travis Perkins Masters in 2010 and 2012, and is hoping to become just the second person in the tournament’s 16-year history to win on three occasions.
“It’s a great start, I surprised myself because I’ve had a few problems lately with my hip,” said Smyth. “I played very poorly in Scotland two weeks ago. I didn’t play last week and went home to lick my wounds and find a different swing because the one I was using wasn’t working.
“Today I played really well, I only missed two greens. For 15 holes I felt I played great and I’m absolutely delighted with the score. I was hitting fairways and greens and giving myself opportunities.”
Rookie Brendan McGovern, who is 31st in the Order of Merit with €37,772 from seven starts, opened with a two under par 70 to share 11th place with Philip Walton (73) tied 29th, Ronan Rafferty (75) tied 45th and Eamonn Darcy (78) solo 50th.
Smyth made the turn two under par, with birdies on the first, fifth and ninth holes, and then made four further gains on the back nine to take a one shot lead.
He was in excellent company at Woburn as he joined former Ryder Cup captains Mark James and Sam Torrance for the first round.
“We go back a long way, our careers have run parallel for 40 years. It was great to play with the guys and they played nicely too. There wasn’t much talk about Hazeltine, we were just getting on with our business.”
A shot behind Smyth is Tim Thelen, already a winner on the 2016 European Senior Tour after taking the Swiss Senior Open title in Bad Ragaz in July.
The American finished his round with birdies on the 17th and 18th holes to take sole ownership of second place.
“I feel very comfortable around this golf course,” he said. “It’s tree-lined, it’s what I’m used to back home. It fits my eye and it’s fun. The crowds are superb, it’s one of the biggest crowds we play in front of. The condition of the golf course is fantastic.”
Tied for third place are 2016 Acorn Jersey Open champion Gordon Manson, and 2013 John Jacobs Trophy winner Paul Wesselingh.
Wesselingh carded eight birdies during his eventful round, with five of them coming on the front nine, eventually finishing on four under par.
The Englishman is in good form after recording three top ten finishes in his last five starts on the Senior Tour.
“It was incredible. I don’t know what was going happening on that front nine,” he said. “It was a case of spot the par! I don’t know what was going on at the start of the season either. Confidence was low, and I usually start the season low on confidence.
“But I found a couple of swing faults that I’ve corrected and my putter has started to work. I’m feeling good and feeling confident.”
South African Chris Williams scored a hole-in-one on the 136-yard par three third hole with apitching wedge en route to a three under par round of 69 to join the six-strong group of players on three under.
Scores after round1:
66 Des Smyth (Irl) ,
67 T Thelen (USA) ,
68 P Wesselingh (Eng), G Manson (Aut) ,
69 P O'Malley (Aus), M Mackenzie (Eng), A Bossert (Sui), C Williams (RSA), M James (Eng), P Golding (Eng) ,
70 B Longmuir (Sco), B Lane (Eng), Brendan McGovern (Irl), J Kingston (RSA), P Eales (Eng), P Linhart (Esp) ,
71 A Oldcorn (Sco), I Woosnam (Wal), S Torrance (Sco), R Chapman (Eng), C Rocca (Ita), G Turner (Nzl), M Atlevi (Swe) ,
72 G Brand (Eng), A Franco (Par), S Dodd (Wal), B Conser (USA), P Fowler (Aus) ,
73 M Farry (Fra), C Mason (Eng), D Gilford (Eng), G Marks (Eng), Philip Walton (Irl) ,
74 M Mouland (Wal), M Piñero (Esp), L Zhang (Chn), J Carriles (Esp), G Brand Jnr (Sco), S Luna (Esp) ,
75 A Forsbrand (Swe), J Rivero (Esp), K Tarling (Can), S Brown (Eng) ,
76 M Harwood (Aus) ,
77 A Murray (Eng), Ronan Rafferty (Nir), S Tinning (Den), C Monasterio (Arg), D Russell (Eng) ,
78 Eamonn Darcy (Irl) ,
79 R Drummond (Sco), N Job (Eng) ,
82 G Emerson (Eng), S Richardson (Eng)