There’s definitely life in the old dog yet. As tournament host, Paul Lawrie has Q&As and other bits and bobs to attend to, but, first and foremost, he’s here as a golfer. Still a good one, too, when his body allows. The Aberdonian woke up yesterday morning feeling in fine fettle and Dane Lucas Bjerregaard was duly dispatched in the opening round of the Aberdeen Asset Management Paul Lawrie Match Play at Archerfield Links.
A 4&2 victory that was set up by six birdies earned Lawrie a match against Australian left-hander and fellow forty-something Richard Green this morning. It was scheduled for the afternoon but, with high winds forecast for Sunday, the second and third rounds will both now be played today. It means another exciting day’s golf on the East Lothian coast.
“I played lovely today and that was also the best I’ve felt for a while,” declared Lawrie, who has been troubled by a foot injury this season and came into this event with a sore neck. Hitting a wedge to three feet at the first was a “great start”. His second birdie of the day at the next was matched by 24-year-old Bjerregaard but not the ones the 47-year-old Scot then made at the sixth and eighth to go two up. He was still in the driving seat when hitting his only wayward shot of the day into bushes at the 14th.
“When I feel how I did today, I can still get a lot of clubhead speed,” said Lawrie. “Lucas is obviously a lot younger than me and probably stronger, but I was hitting it up with him, if not past him, with drivers most of the day. He didn’t play his best golf, but I never really gave him a chance. That’s how match play is. If you get ahead and make birdies yourself, there’s no way the boy can get back at you.”
Just two years younger than Lawrie, three-time European Tour winner Green accounted for Englishman Lee Slattery in his opening match and will be a dangerous opponent, especially if he finds one of the hot streaks that have been frequent throughout his career. “It’s not so much of a young gun for me tomorrow,” said Lawrie of his next opponent, “but, whoever it is, you’ve got to play decent golf.”
Both Matthew Fitzpatrick and Chris Wood certainly did that as the two Ryder Cup contenders negotiated potential banana skins as they beat Thomas Bjorn and Brett Rumford respectively, both winning 4&3. Of the two results, Fitzpatrick’s was the most significant as he overcome a two-time Ryder Cup player and also one of the men who will serve as a vice-captain to Darren Clarke for next month’s match in Minnesota.
“We are still friends,” said a smiling Fitzpatrick after blowing Bjorn out of the water, having stormed to the turn in five-under 31 to be six up and standing six-under for a flawless 15 holes. “I drove the ball well and chipped well, but the difference today was that I holed a few putts,” reported the 21-year-old from Sheffield as he set up a last-32 clash with compatriot Matt Ford. “I didn’t miss anything as I covered the first eight holes in five-under and I’m pleased to get a win.”
Wood, the top seed, recovered from losing the first hole to ease past Rumford more comfortably than he’d perhaps expected. “I couldn’t buy a putt today, but I kept giving myself chances and I think that wore Brett down,” said the 28-year-old Bristol player, who also faces an all-English clash next against Daniel Brooks, the man who led going into the final round of the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open along the coast at Gullane last summer.
In addition to Lawrie, Marc Warren, Richie Ramsay and Craig Lee were other home hopefuls to progress. Warren, a semi-finalist at Murcar 12 months ago, fired seven birdies to win a real shoot-out against Spaniard Jorge Campillo. “We both made a lot of birdies and I was delighted to sneak through,” said the Scot, who was soon joined by Ramsay after he holed a 20-foot birdie putt at the last to kill off the other semi-finalist from last year, David Howell.
Aided by five birdies, Lee beat Frenchman Raphael Jacquelin, but Stephen Gallacher, on his return from injury, and Scott Jamieson ran into immovable forces. Italian teenager Renato Paratore and Swede Alex Noren, bidding to follow up his Scottish Open success last month, were each seven-under in beating them.