Paul Lawrie was the subject of some light-hearted ribbing from fellow Aberdonian Richie Ramsay after saying there was “no point moaning” about the round to mark the start of his 25th season on the European Tour.
Playing in the Joburg Open, the 47-year-old opened with a two-under-par 69 to sit joint-38th in a huge field of 210 players at Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Golf Club.
Lawrie started his milestone season with an opening-hole birdie, picked up another shot at the ninth to be out in two-under 36 on the West Course and was flawless for 12 holes.
The two-time Ryder Cup player then dropped a shot at the 13th, got that back two holes later before finishing birdie-bogey. “Very solid start to the year,” wrote Lawrie on Twitter after his round. “Could have been a few less but it wasn’t, so no point moaning.”
Picking up on that in Dubai, where he is preparing for the start of the Desert Swing next week, Ramsay, clearly inferring that wasn’t normally the case, replied “U feeling okay?”
Accepting that jibe in the humour it was meant, Lawrie later admitted it had been a satisfactory first outing on the circuit since the Portugal Masters last October.
“I hit it nicely today,” said the former Open champiom. “I also hit loads of really good putts but holed very little. However, it felt good for first round of the year.”
His eldest son, Craig, also enjoyed an encouraging start to 2016 earlier in the week as he produced two bogey-free rounds at Penina to finish joint-fifth in an event on the Algarve Pro Golf Tour. “That was a good first event for him and I lost count of the number of times I must have hit the refresh button on my iPad as I waited to see what he’d scored,” said Lawrie sr.
Scott Henry and Craig Lee were the only other Scots to manage par-breaking efforts on the opening day in Johannesburg as they carded matching one-under 71s on the tougher East Course.
“I was a little rusty, but the quality of my game is definitely getting better with the improvements I’ve been making with my new coach, Andrew Nicholson,” said Henry, who faced a 4am rise for his opening round of the year.
“It’s hard to be sharp coming from the freezer to the fire, so to speak, and I was a bit scrappy for a few holes early on before playing really solid. I hit a couple of irons shots close for back-to-back birdies at the 15th and 16th and hopefully I can tear it up on the easier course tomorrow.”
All needing to go low to have a chance of surviving the cut at Jamie McLeary (73), David Drysdale (74), Bradley Neil (75) and Peter Whiteford (75) after they all ended the day sitting outside the top 100.
As South African Justin Walters set the pace with a seven-under 65 on the East Course, Edinburgh-born Rhys Davies was delighted with his opening 66 on 6the West layout. “Whenever you can go around a golf course in 66, you’ve obviously done some good things well,” said Davies, who left the Capital at an early age and has represented Wales throughout his career.
English duo Anthony Wall and David Howell were part of a six-way tie for second on six under, with one of their compatriots, Ross McGowan, joining Davies on five under thanks to five birdies, two bogeys and a hole-in-one on the fifth on the East Course.
Ninety nine of the 210-strong field broke par, with BMW SA Open winner Brandon Stone carding a two-under 69 alongside his idol Ernie Els, who was three under par after nine holes before dropping shots on the 11th and 13th.
Els missed the cut in the BMW SA Open last week after suffering from another attack of the yips in the opening round, but the 46-year-old has vowed to overcome the problem and was putting cross-handed after accepting a late invitation into this week’s event.
Els, Howell, Lawrie and Jaco van Zyl are the only three players in the field currently guaranteed a place in this summer’s Open Championship, with three places at Troon up for grabs for anyone, not already exempt, finishing in the top 10.