JAMIE SPENCE will be taking nothing for granted when he tees off in the second round of the English Senior Open on Saturday despite “smashing” his way to the top of the leaderboard at Rockliffe Hall.
Spence, from Tunbridge Wells, turned in a flawless 18 holes which included five birdies and that saw him finish Friday ahead of the rest with a solid 67.
But the 51-year-old, part of Europe’s management team for next month’s Ryder Cup, has not started banking on any celebratory scenes on the 18th green on Sunday just yet.
“It’s one round. It’s golf. It’s a never ending battle,” said Spence, who won twice on the European Tour. “I am too long in the tooth, so I realise that one round doesn’t mean anything. I could have a 75 on Saturday and I will be ready to pack it all in!
“I know my phone will have 20 text messages, saying well done, when I switch it on. Everyone is your mate when you have done well, aren’t they? Shoot 75 and there will be none. You have to ignore that bull. I have to ignore all that and just play well. I am going to check in to the hotel, I am going to watch some racing, maybe have a bet, and that’s what I will do.”
After starting the day with seven straight pars, Spence wondered what he had to do to make a birdie as the tension started to build up. After back-to-back birdies at eight and nine the confidence came flooding back as he birdied 11, 12 and 17.
“I played nice and it could have been even better,” he said. “I missed a few on the par fives but as golfers we always want more. I could be greedy. But I’m happy.
“There was a light breeze but the fairways were wide so it wasn’t too difficult. I just gave it a smash really. I was getting frustrated because I hadn’t made birdie, fortunately I am a very patient man! It really annoyed me.
“I had it on in two on the fourth with a really good five iron. I three putted. Then at the seventh I chipped it up to within four feet and missed. I had two birdies around the turn. I made a great up and down at ten as well.”
Spence, whose playing partner Cesar Monasterio is two shots further back, only returned to the competitive golf circuit last year after spending six years concentrating on being a European Tour director. After finishing sixth at the Scottish Open last week, he feels in good shape going in to the weekend at Rockliffe Hall.
“I had time out of the game and people say you have to keep playing to stay at your best but that’s a load of rubbish. It really is,” said Spence, who holed a 20ft putt at 17 for birdie after a lovely four-iron approach.
“I dipped my toe in last year and I enjoyed it. I played well last week. I finished sixth last weekend and nicely all year. You can’t push too hard.”
Zimbabwean Tony Johnstone is nicely placed to make a move on the leadership on Saturday after shooting 68. He is just a shot adrift after somehow bouncing back from a horrible double bogey at 16 by finishing with back-to-back birdies.
The 58-year-old said: “I hit a perfect tee shot down the par five 16th and tried to lay-up and hit an absolutely god-awful shot straight left which ended up virtually unplayable. I had to hack out, get up to the green and then three-putted so I made a complete horse’s of the whole thing.
“But I hit the ball well all day and fortunately that returned on the finish. I hit a four iron to 15 feet at 17 and made that and 18 I hit a five iron to 20 feet and holed that, which was nice after the shambles at 16.
“My swing was bad coming into this week; I was even considering becoming a wood-cutter it was so horrific. But I just found a little thought on the range this morning and just absolutely ripped it from then on in. I hit more good shots today than I have the whole season.”
There is then a four-strong group on three under consisting of American Gary Rusnak, Monasterio, David J Russell and Chris Williams back in the clubhouse.
The former Ryder Cup players on show were further down the leaderboard. Mark James ended with a 70, Barry Lane carded 71 while Ian Woosnam’s opening round did not go to plan with a 74, despite an eagle at 12, and Sam Torrance shot 75.
Rockliffe’s Roger Roper started brightly but ended up with Torrance on five over, which was a shot better than Matfen Hall’s John Harrison who was a shot further back. Eaglesclifffes Graeme Bell was the best placed of the North-East’s golfers after he shot level par.
FIRST ROUND SCORES
67 J Spence (Eng) ,
68 T Johnstone (Zim) ,
69 G Rusnak (USA) , D Russell (Eng) , C Williams (Eng) , C Monasterio (Arg) ,
70 P Wesselingh (Eng) , R Drummond (Sco) , K Tomori (Jpn) , M James (Eng) , P Curry (Eng) , J Carriles (Esp) , M Martin (Esp) , B Conser (USA) , M Cunning (USA) ,
71 G Wolstenholme (Eng) , S Luna (Esp) , J Quiros (Esp) , G Manson (Aut) , J Gould (Eng) , A Murray (Eng) , M Farry (Fra) , B Lane (Eng) , G Brand Jnr (Sco) , R Arnott (Sco) , D Smyth (Irl) , D O'Sullivan (Irl) ,
72 P Jonas (Can) , M Bianco (Ita) , A Oldcorn (Sco) , T Thelen (USA) , S Tinning (Den) , P Linhart (Esp) , A Bossert (Sui) , G Bell (Eng) , A Franco (Par) , P Golding (Eng) ,
73 T Price (Aus) , R Gibson (Can) , M Davis (Eng) , P Fowler (Aus) , J Berendt (Arg) , L Carbonetti (Arg) , M McLean (Eng) ,
74 J Bruner (USA) , G Ryall (Eng) , P Eales (Eng) , B Cameron (Eng) , P Walton (Irl) , J Smith (USA) , R Rafferty (Nir) , I Woosnam (Wal) , M Harwood (Aus) , P Way (Eng) ,
75 J Sallat (Fra) , S Cipa (Eng) , S Torrance (Sco) , A Sherborne (Eng) , D Durnian (Eng) , N Job (Eng) , G Brand (Eng) ,
76 K Spurgeon (Eng) , M Mackenzie (Eng) , G Emerson (Eng) ,
77 R Roper (Eng) , C Mason (Eng) , S Brown (Eng) , J Harrison (Eng) , W Grant (Eng) ,
80 B Longmuir (Sco) , N Ratcliffe (Aus) ,
** J Remesy (Fra) ,