BERNHARD Langer made an impressive start to the defence of his title in the Senior Open Championship, with the German part of a record eight-way share for the lead after the opening round at Sunningdale.
Langer ripped up the record books on his own 12 months ago as he raced to an unprecedented 13-stroke victory at Royal Porthcawl, in Wales but he had to share another piece of history on this occasion following a five under par opening round of 65.
Five-under is a good score, I didn’t make any major mistakes and kept it together2014 champion Bernard Langer
That total was matched by the American quintet of Michael Allen, Bart Bryant, Marco Dawson, Lee Janzen and Jeff Sluman, Spaniard Miguel Angel Jiménez and Lianwei Zhang, who also created history by becoming the first Chinese player to compete in the Senior Open.
The previous record for the most players tied for first round lead in the Senior Open was four players, which happened in both 2004 and 2007.
Langer is bidding to equal the record of three victories in the Senior Open, currently held by Gary Player and Tom Watson, and, despite not hitting top gear, the 57-year-old former Ryder Cup captain moved ominously to the top of the leaderboard with six birdies against just a single bogey, which came on the sixth hole.
“I held it together well today,” said Langer. “My putting was pretty good. I don’t feel totally comfortable with my swing yet, I’m still working on it. I think I get underneath it a bit which causes a push-fade and a pull-hook. I’m trying to improve in that area. But overall, five-under is a good score, and I didn’t make any major mistakes and kept it together.”
His playing partner, Jiménez, is competing in his second Senior Open after he finished tied eighth last year, and the oldest winner in European Tour history is looking to add a maiden Senior Major Championship to his glittering CV. He also carded six birdies, with his only bogey of the day on the 17th hole.
“It’s a good start. The target is still at the end of the week and the thing you need to do is keep enjoying it and have fun like I did today on the golf course.
“I remember the golf course. At the beginning of the week, you feel like there are a few holes missing but the golf course, it’s a great golf course. It’s firm fairways. The greens, they are really softer than what we played yesterday and the day before in practice but the golf course, it’s a very good golf course.”
Welshman Mark Mouland, American Brian Henninger and Argentine Cesar Monasterio are one shot behind the leaders on four under par, while Scotland’s Colin Montgomerie and American Watson are among eight players tied a further shot back on three under par.
Montgomerie, the three-time Senior major champion who finished runner up to Langer last year, posted five birdies in his round of 67, but a double bogey six on the par four 11th hole cost him a share of the lead.
“It was disappointing to double a hole, my God, because it was playing as easy as it possibly can be,” said Montgomerie. “But 67, we’ve said many times before, you can only lose it today and not win it. If that’s the worst score I do around here, I should be OK.”
Watson managed one more birdie than his playing partner Montgomerie, but also dropped three shots on the back nine to also settle for a share of 12th place.
“I hit some quality iron shots, made a few putts, and hit a few awkward shots, but other than that, it was a good round of golf,” said Watson.
On the Challenge Tour, Ryan Fox finished with four birdies and an eagle in his final six holes to smash the course record with a nine under par round of 62 to lead by one shot from Robert Coles after the first round of Le Vaudreuil Golf Challenge.
The 28-year-old New Zealander made his major debut at St Andrews last week, finishing in the top 50 of the Open Championship after a fine 67 in the final round, and he continued that form in France.
Elliot Saltman and Jamie McLeary both opened with four-under 67s, while Duncan Stewart shot a 69 to also sit inside the top 20.