On a largely bright and pleasant day in Fife, the 51-year-old launched the defence of his crown with a purposeful five-under-par 67 to sit in a share of second, two shots behind the leader, Peter Fowler. The Australian had a birdie and an eagle over his closing two holes to hoist him to the top of the leaderboard with a fine 65.
Lane’s victory in the event at St Andrews last year completed something of a double-scotch for the Englishman as it followed his success in the Bells Scottish Open at Gleneagles back in 1988.
Eager to return north of the border and attempt to retain his title, the former Ryder Cup player found himself in a bit of a quandary when he received a late invitation to the lucrative Senior Players’ Championship on the gravy train that is the Champions Tour in the United States.
With a purse of £1.6m on offer in New York this weekend, compared to £250,000 at the home of golf, it was a highly-tempting proposition.
Lane is a man of principle, though. “I was desperate to go to the US and play there but I turned it down,” he said, having kick-started a back-nine thrust with a 25ft birdie putt on 11 before making further gains at 14, 15 and 18. “Because I’m the defending champion here I didn’t want to disappoint the sponsors.
“If I was a sponsor I wouldn’t want the title holder withdrawing a couple of days before the event. I’ve played in Europe all my life and, while I will go out and play on the Champions Tour, I still feel that I need to support the European Senior Tour. It’s a great circuit and we need to back those who are willing to sponsor it.”
Lane was joined in a tie for second by the veteran American Jerry Bruner, the 64-year-old who is calling time on his playing career at the end of the season, while there was local interest on the leaderboard in the St Andrews exile Gordon Manson, a Senior Tour rookie.
The 51-year-old, who was born in the Auld Grey Toon but now has Austrian citizenship after spending nearly three decades on the continent, sank a trio of birdies in a tidy 69 to finish in a tie for fourth. “I’ve given all the teaching up to focus on my own golf,” said Manson. “I’m still trying to get used to playing tournament golf again but my wife said I might find some strength on the course now that I’m back home.”
Edinburgh’s Andrew Oldcorn, the Senior PGA champion, and the Anglo-Scot Bill Longmuir both opened with 70s while Sam Torrance recovered from a wretched start to mark the 10th anniversary of the course he designed with a battling 72. “It’s the national senior championship on my own course and I was three-over after three,” said Torrance. “This game does your head in.”