Trio set the pace at Northants

16/05/2012

Yorkshire’s John King declared his intention to win the Senior PGA Professional Championship after opening his challenge in style.

The Lindrick professional and former coach to Lee Westwood threw down the gauntlet with a bogey-free three-under-par 67 at Northants County.

King, playing in the 54-hole £33,000 tournament for the second time, shares top spot with debutant Mark Stokes of Rayleigh Golf Range and Newbury Golf Centre’s John Hoskinson, who is making his competitive return following a knee operation in December.

A hat-trick of birdies from the eighth paved the way to the top for former Midland Order of Merit winner King, who insisted he was back in the Midlands with one aim – to take the title.

“My target for the week is to win,” he boldly declared. For the majority of the 144-players that teed off, a top 20 place is normally the overall target as this will secure a spot in next month’s £250,000 ISPS Handa PGA Seniors Championship at Slaley Hall.

But King is ready to be crowned having sent a clear message out to his rivals following his opening gambit. “I just had a very consistent round with a lot of good shots,” he said.

“I didn’t have one bogey and was disappointed not to end with a birdie to finish the round off in style.

“I missed a couple of putts early on, had a couple of good up and downs and then hit three birdies on the trot which really gave my round momentum.

“I didn’t make any mistakes so it was a stress free round, if you can call it that.

“I haven’t played a lot but I am striking the ball well and this is just one of those rounds where everything slotted into place.”

But fellow leaders Stokes and Hoskison are more content to see how the next two days pan out. Stokes, whose round comprised five birdies and two bogeys, said: “It’s a pretty good start,” he said. “I battled through the day and I’ve just got to keep grinding it out.

“This was the first time I played it. I came up for a practice round a couple of weeks ago but due to weather it was closed. I got to walk the course.

“Top 20 was the goal and top 20 still is the goal. There’s a long way to go. I’ve been leading before and the wheels have fallen off so I won’t get too carried away.”

Hoskison was also refusing to get carried having revealed this was his first competitive round in almost a year, having torn the cartilage in his knee in last year’s tournament – resulting in an operation and then end of 2011.

“I had a knee operation in December and this is my first competitive round since the Senior Open last year – so I don’t know what’s gone on today,” he said.

“I holed a couple of good putts and just kept it going but it was all a bit foreign out there. I was absolutely tentative out there and didn’t expect anything, it was just a case of turn and see what happens.

“Obviously, now it’s a great start and I’ll be under the cosh a bit so it’s a case of see what happens, but it is all very experimental again. “It’s almost a year to the day since I injured the knee here.

"I was playing the third round when my knee locked tearing the cartilage which resulted in an operation in December. “So this is the first time since then I am playing with a card in my hand and so I am very tentative.” A shot further back in a share of fourth place is fellow debutant Gary Stubbington of Hockley Golf Club and Nicholas Mitchell of Newbury Golf Range.

Five players are locked at one-under-par 69 including last year’s runner-up Richard Green (Bramhall) and last year’s PGA Cup captain Russell Weir (Cowal). The top 40 players and ties following the tomorrow’s second round will contest the final day.

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