Late blow denies Smyth outright lead

06/06/2013

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Des Smyth saw a potentially brilliant first round of the ISPS HANDA PGA Seniors Championship suffer a knockout blow over the closing holes at De Vere Mottram Hall.

The Irish ace was cruising three shots clear of clubhouse leader Gordon J Brand at nine under through 15 holes but bogeyed the last three including the 18th when he thinned a bunker shot which hit a woman spectator.

Smyth’s errant approach – his third to the par five hole – left him signing for a six under 67 and a share of the lead with Brand who lifted this title in 2008.

Defending champion Paul Wesselingh carded a 68 with past winners Sam Torrance and Bill Longmuir alongside Mark James on four under. Eaglescliffe head pro Graeme Bell posted a 70 in his debut in the £260,000 event.

Smyth, who reached nine under with an eagle, birdie, birdie spurt from the 13th, admitted the incident on the last had shaken him.

“It gave me a fright and I’m sure it gave her a bigger fright. Somebody shouted fore, I thought I was going to the back of the green, I didn’t realise it was going that far,” he said.

“I was flying at nine under through 15 holes and really I didn’t do much wrong coming in. I hit it just short on 16 but didn’t get up and down, I then hit a good shot on 17 but ran through into the rough which made it quite difficult  and ended up making a bogey and made a right mess of the last especially hitting that poor lady. That was the worst part.

“I was thinking with three holes to go I could shoot 10 under par here but that’s golf. There were one or two situations which went in my favour earlier in the round. I chipped in on eight which really got my round going.

“I feel good about my game and if you can feel disappointed with six under, I’m disappointed.”

Earlier an attack of first tee jitters saw Wesselingh pull his drive in the direction of the practice range.

But four birdies in the first five holes of his first round soon settled his nerves with an eagle at the 470-yard par five 13th another highlight.

The former Kedleston Park head pro is now comfortable flying high alongside established stars of the European Senior Tour circuit such as Torrance and Ian Woosnam who opened his account with a 72.

The six-time PGA Cup player’s raised profile, especially as the title holder, has sparked increased media attention which he has taken in his stride although he revealed his bout of first tee nerves was sparked when the starter announced him as defending champion.

 “I wasn’t too bothered by all the fuss over the past few days but on the first tee I was alright till they said ‘defending champion’ and suddenly the butterflies came and I thought here we go and I was a bit quick on my downswing and pulled it left,” he said.

“But a couple of birdies settled me down and I’m pleased with that because it was a good finish on the back nine which is tough.”

He added: “The past year has been incredible, I still can’t believe what happened - that’s the amazing thing. It’s nice to come out here and I suppose people want to be closer to you and want more of you which is lovely, I’ve never been in this position before.

“I’ve had to do a lot of interviews this week, which is great, and the past year has changed my life.”

Brand meanwhile hit the ground running with a winter practising on the Algarve paying early dividends.

“I had no high expectations but I’ve been playing well over the winter in Portugal so I was hopeful something was there and it turned out it was,” he said.

“It’s probably going to be a low scoring week, especially if the weather stays like this. The course is going to dry out and the ball’s going to be running further – but that could actually make life trickier from the tee, if anything, because it could easily run through the fairway and into the rough. Finding the fairway from the tee is crucial.”

Torrance showed few signs of rust in a 69 that yielded seven birdies.

“I haven’t played for seven months, which is probably the longest lay-off I’ve had in my 43 years as a professional golfer. So it was difficult to gauge how I’d play, and although there was a little bit of rust in the system I was pretty pleased with how I played overall.”

Sitting just behind Torrance among the early starters was Bell who showed few nerves on his debut.

“I’m over the moon, I made a couple of mistakes but would have taken it before I come out,” said the former PGA Cup player who needs a top 10 finish to qualify for next week’s Wales Senior Open.

Also making hay in the warm Cheshire sun was Richard Green from nearby Bramhall Golf Club, with a 71 despite an on-going love hate relationship with his three wood which cost him a triple bogey at the 17th (his eighth) hole.

“I thought the seven was out of character. It’s just the three wood, I hate the three wood. I keep changing it at the moment.

“I hit three wood ended under a tree, had to chip it out, hit three wood again and found more trouble in the rough so a triple bogey was about a fair result.

“I’m just trying to enjoy it and make it to the weekend.”

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