Eamonn Darcy and Sam Torrance, who between them have accumulated some 60 seasons on Tour, rolled back the years by taking a share of the first round lead of the Italian Open at Is Molas. They are joined at the top of the leaderboard by England’s Van Phillips and Frenchman Benoit Teilleria after equalling the course record of 65, seven under par.
Darcy finished with three straight birdies in his 65 to give him a fighting chance of retaining his Tour card. The 48-year-old, one of Europe's victorious 1987 Ryder Cup team, lies 144th on the Volvo Order of Merit and needs to finish in the top three to get into the top 115 and extend his run of 30 unbroken years on the European Tour.
"The course is there for the taking so I'm not surprised, I'm delighted," Darcy said. "I've been hitting the ball pretty good the last month and it's just a pity I've left it a bit late."
Ryder Cup captain Sam Torrance has won this title twice before in his 30 years on Tour. And after discovering the benefits of a new ball the 47-year-old has added an extra 20 yards to his game. Playing the new Titleist V1382 ball, Torrance went out in two under par 35 and came back in just 30 helped by an eagle and three birdies.
"The new ball has given me 20 or 30 yards more distance with the driver and even more control with my irons. It's delicious,” he said.
"My only bogey of the day came on the 17th when I hit a drive 355 yards into a ditch that runs across the fairway.”
With numerous sub-plots running through this event, Torrance finds himself needing a top three place to qualify for next week’s Volvo Masters.
Van Phillips has endured a frustrating time since making his winning breakthrough in Portugal last season, but found the greens at Is Molas very much to his liking. “They are the best greens, equal with Dubai, we have played on all season. It’s been frustrating because I have played some very good golf this year but have had my worst scoring season since joining the Tour.”
Teilleria, a graduate of last year’s Challenge Tour, is just a few places above Darcy in the Volvo Order of Merit and similarly looking for something special in his last playing opportunity of the year. He found that in a back nine of 32, five under par, in a round that included eight birdies.
Seven players have gathered on six under par and in the group just one stroke further back is the current leader of the Volvo Order of Merit – Lee Westwood after an opening 67. Westwood returned to action this week after a two week break and, despite being a “little bit rusty” on the greens, seems to have lost none of the skill with his long game.
“If the longest putt you hole is four feet and you shoot five under you have to be fairly happy with that,” he said. “I was pretty disgusted with myself that I left so many shots out there. I hit 16 greens but made about 33 putts. Hit it lovely tee to green. Hardly made a mistake. Hit is close a lot and missed a lot. But it’s not out of contention and if I can start holing putts then I might start making some significant progress.”
Westwood cannot win the Volvo Order of Merit this week but if he was to win the 166,660 euro first prize, he would open up a sizeable lead over his challengers as the race enters the home straight. Victory would also set a new European Tour record of seven victories in a season, surpassing the exploits of Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo and Colin Montgomerie.
Check the live scoring on The European Tour website: www.europeantour.com.