Darren Clarke eased away to share the first round lead in the Senior Open at Sunningdale but there’s an impressive cast of champions on his tail.
The 2011 Open champion shot a five-under 65, matched only by South Africa’s James Kingston, and the pair lead by a shot from multiple-times – and defending – champion Bernhard Langer, Ricardo Gonzalez of Argentina and Wales’ Stephen Dodd.
Just behind however are twice Open champion Ernie Els and the USA’s Jerry Kelly, while still in close touch are Colin Montgomerie, Thomas Bjorn and Ian Woosnam, all on two-under.
‘You’ve got to play smart here’
An opening 65 from @DarrenClarke60
— Legends Tour (@euLegendsTour) July 22, 2021
Clarke had six birdies and just one dropped shot, and parred his way after picking up his final birdie at the long 14th.
Like so many in the field, the Northern Irishman knows Sunningdale well having lived near the course for many years, and knows the key is to think your way around.
“I think you’ve got to respect Sunningdale,” he said. “You’ve got to play smart here.
“It’s important to hit it on the fairways. That can be any week, but I’ve played here enough to know that there’s certain flags that you go for and there’s certain flags that you don’t go for.
“And I played smart. I hit away from the flags to the middle of the greens and gave myself some chances. I kept giving myself chances there in the last few holes.
“Didn’t make anything towards the end but just played smart. I think the winner is going to have to play smart this week.”
‘There’s still difficulty’
Clarke said he’s hitting the same distances at Sunningdale he did when he lived nearby and played the course all the time.
“The equipment’s made it that distance-wise, even on a great old course like Sunningdale,” he said. “You might say that possibly in terms of the length of the golf course, this is not really one you should play anymore, but there’s still difficulty in hitting the shots.
“You still have to hit on the fairways and navigate on the greens and know them. Though technology has moved on, you still have to play.
“We have some wonderful players on the Champions Tour that can still play.”
Sauerkraut and sausages
With three birdies in his last five holes, the now 63-year-old reigning champion Langer continued to defy the ages.
“Lots of sauerkraut and sausages,” he joked as the reason he stays so competitive. “No, my mother is going to be 98 soon so I guess I have good genes. I do work on it, I enjoy working out, walking, playing golf.
“But you need more than fitness. You need good technique, you have to be mentally tough and strong. You need a good caddie and coach and hopefully a good home life and all that stuff.”
Yesterday Langer drove the ball well but took time to get going with the long stick.
“I had two 3-putts early on. Really made my first putt on 16 and another one on 17. I wish I could have played a few more holes because I was just getting warmed up with the putter.”
‘It’s very much home for me’
Els shot 67 but felt “I still have a lot of work to do”, but was just delighted to have a good day at a course he knows well.
“I saw some of my old friends, including Sam Torrance, on the terrace,” he said. “We still live up a mile from here at Wentworth.
“It’s very much home for me. We’ve been here since 1998, so it’s a long time. Kids were born here and so forth. We moved to America, but we have kept the house here.”
Poor finish ruins Crerar’s card
— Colin Montgomerie (@montgomeriefdn) July 21, 2021
Monty’s 68 made him the best of the Scots contingent but for a long time it seemed that Panmure head professional Andrew Crerar was going to claim that honour.
The 53-year-old, in his second Senior Open, fought his way to three-under with four to play, but a bogey at the short 15th stalled his momentum and he finished with a double-bogey and a triple-bogey for a three-over 73.
Monty shrugged off early bogeys at the second and fourth to cover the front nine in par and had birdies at the long 14th and at the 18th on the way back.
“Driving the ball straight is the key here,” he said. “I’ve never has been that long, but straight. I hit every fairway today and every fairway yesterday in the Pro-Am. It’s important.
“Even if you’re in the semi, you’re guessing how far it’s going to go. Is it going to release on the greens, is it not? At least you know off the fairway what it’s going to do.”
Paul Lawrie opened with a five-over 75, without a birdie on his card. Fellow Aberdonian Scott Henderson managed a par round of 70, to be in good shape to make the cut.