Irish duo Ronan Rafferty and Philip Walton rolled back the years to sit first and second respectively after the opening round of the £250,000 Prostate Cancer UK Scottish Senior Open at Archerfield Links.
In benign conditions on the East Lothian coast, former European No 1 Rafferty led a spate of low scoring on the Fidra Links with a blistering nine-under-par 63 that contained two eagles and six birdies.
It earned the 52-year-old a one-shot lead over fellow former Ryder Cup player Walton, who made his score by enjoying a hot day on the greens, holing “five or six putts between 25 and 40 feet for birdies”.
Australian Peter Fowler was the best of the rest with a 66, with two former winners, Englisman Barry Lane and Spaniard Santiago Luna, among four players a shot further adrift.
Leading home hope Andrew Oldcorn opened with a 68, as did Senior Open title-holder and defending champion Paul Broadhurst, to sit inside the top 10.
Rafferty, who was born in Newry but now lives near Gleneagles, topped the European Tour Order of Merit in 1989, the same year he played in the Ryder Cup at The Belfry.
He’s struggled to make his mark since joining the over-50s ranks, having only managed to record a single top-10 finish over the past two-and-a-half seasons.
But he was delighted after signing for his lowest effort on a main European circuit since carding the same score in the final round of the Lancome Trophy in 1988.
“I’ve not been doing that well and I don’t know whether I’m more surprised or you,” he joked. “I suggest it’s a bit of both. As in ‘oh my god, where’s he come from?’”
The seven-time European Tour winner transformed his day by picking up seven shots in a “purple patch” from 14th after starting at the tenth.
“It all happened suddenly and I was thinking ‘wow, what’s just happened over the last hour and a half’,” he admitted.
“I hit some good shots from the 14th to the first and all my best ones were with a 7-iron as I found myself with the same distance time after time.”
The first of his eagles came at the 388-yard 16th, where he used some local knowledge to hole an 8-iron “bump and run” from 140 yards.
“I do a lot of corporate work and I actually practice here and next door (The Renaissance Club) - both of which have pretty decent practice facilities,” added the leader.
While clearly surprised to find himself setting the pace, Rafferty is looking forward to seeing if he can keep up the good work over the final two rounds.
“We all play to try to get ourselves up that leaderboard and, if there’s a pro golfer who doesn’t, then he shouldn’t be playing the game,” he said.
“You only find out your flaws when you are on a leaderboard with people watching and I still need to do that because I’ve hardly been on a leaderboard in three years. It would be nice to see what sort of shape my game really is in.”
Walton, who clinched the winning point for Bernard Gallacher’s team in the 1995 Ryder Cup at Oak Hill, was equally pleased with an opening effort that included an eagle and seven birdies.
“I drove it well today and also holed a lot of good putts,” said the 54-year-old. “My game has been in and out, but I’ve started to putt better since the anchoring ban came in.”
The Dubliner beat Jay Haas in the last-day singles in that Ryder Cup victory. “It is too far back to give me good memories when the match comes around these days,” he admitted.
“But it was the quickest disappearance of 25,000 Americans that I’ve ever seen!”
Oldcorn, who ended a five-year title drought with victory in Germany last month, carded an eagle and three birdies, dropping his sole shot of the day at the ninth.
“I’d have grabbed your hand off if you’d offered me four-under before I went out as my warm up was really poor,” said the 56-year-old Edinburgh man.
“It was strange as I’d hit it really well in my preparation but, after waking up today and finding that my timing was out, it was a bit of a grinding day.”
Broadhurst, who won on his over-50s debut in this event 12 months ago before becoming a Senior major winner at Carnoustie last month, dropped two shots in his last three holes.
“I’d have taken four-under before I went out, but that poor finish leaves a bad taste,” admitted the 51-year-old Englishman.
(GB&I unless stated)
63 Ronan Rafferty
64 Philip Walton
66 Peter Fowler (Aus)
67 Barry Lane, Mark James, Mike Harwood (Aus), Santiago Luna (Esp)
68 Ian Woosnam, Des Smyth, Andrew Oldcorn, Paul Broadhurst, Paul Eales
69 Paul Wesselingh, Gary Wolstenholme, Andre Bossert (Sui), Gary Marks, Pedro Linhart (Esp)
71 Bill Longmuir, Gordon Brand Jnr
72 Stephen McAllister, Ross Drummond
73 Sam Torrance