A week after surrendering his grasp on the Senior Open Championship’s Claret Jug, Darren Clarke took up hosting duties as the Legends Tour rolled into JCB Country Club in England’s midlands.
Just 18 of the 88 players who teed it up would break par at the notoriously difficult course built and owned by the multi-national plant machinery manufacturer.
Clarke began in ideal fashion with birdies at the first and third holes, but gave those strokes back with bogeys on four and seven and made the turn at level-par. He’d start the back nine as he did the front with a birdie-four at the 10th, but again, dropped back to level-par when he bogeyed the 15th.
He’d end the day on a high note, however, as he rolled in a birdie putt on the 18th to get to one-under for the day and be one of the 18 to finish the right side of par in the opening round, with 63 players shooting one-over or higher.
Clarke trails the leading trio of Philip Golding, Keith Horne and Rod Pampling by three strokes, with Peter Baker, Jeev Milkha Singh and Ernie Els in hot pursuit and one shot adrift on -3.
Els, nicknamed ‘The Big Easy’ for his rhythmic swing and effortless power, was one of the few players to birdie the iconic par-3 17th which plays as long as 260-yards over water.
Alongside Clarke at -1, among others, are Colin Montgomerie, Vijay Singh, reigning PGA Champions Tour Order of Merit champion Steven Alker, and the man who succeeded Clarke as Senior Open champion, Alex Cejka. Cejka’s third senior major success came at Padraig Harrington’s expense as the Czech-born German defeated the Dubliner on the second playoff hole at Royal Porthcawl.