THE FORMER Ryder Cup player, Des Smyth, struck a blow for the veterans yesterday when he fashioned a two-shot lead in the first round of the Algarve Open.
The 46-year-old Irishman, whose last European Tour success was the 1993 Madrid Open, had birdies at five of the first six holes, two of them with chip-ins, on the way to a six-under-par 66.
It was the lowest return on a course trimmed from par 73 to 72 but failed to count as a record because preferred lies were in operation on the sodden fairways.
Even though the wet weather has produced a long course, a trusty "broom- handle" putter left Smyth two better than a pack of six - the South African Retief Goosen, Japan's Katsuyoshi Tomori, Swede Fredrik Jacobson, Spaniards Santiago Luna and Miguel Jimenez and Frenchman Jean van de Velde.
The long-handled club paid handsome dividends for Smyth as he needed only 11 putts going out and 13 coming home - three from off the green.
After several ups and downs last year and a poor start this year, the genial Irishman now has his feet on the ground.
"Today was a real blast from the past for me," Smyth said. "But tournaments are over 72 holes. If I'm still up there with nine holes to go on Sunday I will not be afraid to win.
"But making the cut will be a relief after missing out both times this year so far. I only kept my card by two places and about pounds 1,500 last year and I don't want that kind of worry again this year. I think I've scared myself into this score. I feel like a hare being chased by a lot of greyhounds, knowing I can't get away from them still for another four years when I join the seniors. But I just love being competitive. It's where I get my buzz."
Scotland's Sam Torrance, 45, was another veteran on song, returning after a five-week injury lay-off to shoot a 69.
Goosen was playing only his second event this year after breaking his left arm in a skiing accident on 2 January.
European rankings leader David Howell had a disappointing 74, while the defending champion Peter Mitchell carded 71. Their English compatriot Justin Rose shot 71 to give himself a chance of making his first cut at the 15th attempt as a professional.
ALGARVE OPEN (Penina, Portugal) First-round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 66 D Smyth. 68 R Goosen (SA), M A Jimenez (Sp), K Tomori (Jpn), S Luna (Sp), F Jacobson (Swe), J Van De Velde (Fr). 69 F Valera (Sp), S Torrance, D Gilford, M Scarpa (It), R Karlsson (Swe). 70 S Webster, J Rivero (Sp), I Garbutt, B May (US), R Winchester. 71 A Oldcorn, P Lawrie, A Coltart, A Cejka (Ger), P Fulke (Swe), A Wall, J Bickerton, R Boxall, P Mitchell, C Hainline (US), T Johnstone (Zim), M Jonzon (Swe), H Clark, J Rose, F Cea (Sp), R Wessels (SA), P Affleck, P Linhart (Swe). 72 S Henderson, M Florioli (It), V Phillips, F Lindgren (Swe), D Borrego (Sp), E Canonica (It), W Riley (Aus), R Jacquelin (Fr), J M Arruti (Sp), G Evans, R Gonzalez (Arg), M Tunnicliff, B Lane, I Pyman, P Hedblom (Swe), M Roe, A Sobrinho (Por), A Cabrera (Arg), J Mellor, JP Cixous (Fr), S Bennett. 73 G Orr, T Levet (Fr), J Berendt (Arg), A McLardy (SA), J Lara (Sp), S Gallacher, H Nystrom (Swe), D Hospital (Sp), A Hansen (Den), P Baker, T Munoz (Sp), R J Dersken (Ned), P Eales, J Quiros (Sp), *N Campino (Por), J Singh (Ind), J McHenry, T Gillis (US). 74 A Sherborne, S Hansen (Den), B Davis, A Beal, G Norquist (US), C Whitelaw (SA), R Claydon, P Harrington, D Chopra (Swe), F Tarnaud (Fr), D Howell, M Anglert (Swe), J Spence, T Gogele (Ger), R Drummond, J Coceres (Arg), D Robertson.
* denotes amateur.