Darren Clarke
Darren Clarke Image Credit: Reuters

Darren Clarke and James Kingston shared the first-round lead at the Senior Open after posting five-under par rounds of 65 on a sun-baked opening day at Sunningdale.

Northern Irishman Clarke is bidding for his first Senior major and the 2011 Open champion got off to an excellent start, posting just a single bogey to share a the lead alongside Kingston, with defending champion Bernhard Langer one shot back in a three-way tie for third place with Argentina’s Ricardo Gonzalez and Welshman Stephen Dodd.

Clarke started well with four birdies on the front nine to make the turn in 31, before responding to his only dropped shot of the day at the par four 12th hole with back-to-back birdies, while Kingston got up and down from the greenside bunker for par on the 18th hole to keep the bogeys off the card and join the Northern Irishman atop the leaderboard.

Four-time major champion Ernie Els is one of seven players in a tie for sixth on three under par, alongside 2002 Ryder Cup player Phillip Price, of Wales, Australian debutant Robert Allenby and English amateur John Kemp.

A quartet of Ryder Cup captains are among a group of 10 players who share 14th place, with Thomas Bjorn, Tom Lehman, Colin Montgomerie and Ian Woosnam all posting two-under par opening rounds of 68.

“I think you’ve got to respect Sunningdale,” said Clarke. “You’ve got to play smart here. It’s important to hit it on the fairways, that can be any week, but I’ve played here enough to know that there’s certain flags that you go for and there’s certain flags that you don’t go for.

“I played smart around here. I hit away from the flags to the middle of the greens and gave myself some chances, and kept giving myself chances there in the last few holes. Didn’t make anything at the end but just played smart. I think the winner is going to have to play smart this week.”