Darren Clarke played it ‘smart’ to find his way into a share of the lead on the opening day of the Senior Open Championship at Sunningdale.
Clarke, three weeks shy of his 53rd birthday, grabbed six birdies in a five-under par 65 in a field boasting eleven other major champions and also nine fellow Ryder Cup captains competing on the Surrey course.
The now Bahamas-based Clarke, a two-time winner on the U.S. Champions Tour, capped his round with four birdies over his outward half to finish day tied with South African James Kingston, with defending champion Bernard Langer already looming large to be in a group sharing third place at four-under par.
“I think you’ve got to respect Sunningdale,” Clarke 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 around here. I hit away from the flags to the middle of the greens and gave myself some chances, and kept giving myself chances there in the last few holes. Didn’t make anything at the end but just played smart. I think the winner is going to have to play smart this week.”
Four-time Major Champion Ernie Els is one of eight players in a tie for sixth on three-under par, alongside 2002 Ryder Cup player Phillip Price, of Wales, Australian debutant Robert Allenby and English amateur John Kemp.
Four Ryder Cup Captains are among a group of ten players who share 14th place, with Thomas Bjørn, Tom Lehman, Colin Montgomerie and Ian Woosnam all posting two-under par opening rounds of 68.
Paul McGinley, the only other Irishman in the field, was two under after just three holes but three bogeys mid-round saw him eventually with a one-under par 69.
And Royal Dublin’s Niall Kearney heads the Irish at this week’s European Tour Cazoo Open at Celtic Manor. Kearney signed for a level par 71 with fellow Irish Gavin Moynihan, Paul Dunne and James Sugrue posting 73s while rookie pro John Murphy returned a 74.
The pair of Swede Vincent Norrman and Spaniard Nacho Elvira head the field with seven-under par 64s.