IT WAS a day of mixed fortunes for Scotland’s two top-ranked players. While Martin Laird celebrated becoming No 1 again with a pleasing one-under-par 70, Paul Lawrie had a shocker in the event so special to his heart.
A double-bogey 6 at the first – he wasn’t the only one amongst a ten-strong Tartan Army to have problems there – set the tone and from there on it was a dour old struggle for the 1999 champion. He took four to get out of a bunker at the short seventh, ran up a quadruple-bogey 7 there and eventually signed for a ten-over 81 – 16 shots more than he opened with at Royal Lytham a year ago.
“I really struggled all day,” he admitted afterwards of an effort that was only one shot fewer than his worst score in the R&A’s flagship event. “I hit a poor shot off the first, left it in the hay, then three-putted for a double,” added the Aberdonian of his stumbling start.
It came in the wake of him just scraping into the final two rounds in last week’s Scottish Open, prior to which Lawrie had pulled out of the French Open with back and groin problems.
Neither were an excuse for this, though. “I’m fully fit,” he insisted before sarcastically adding: “Unfortunately.”
In fine form this time last year, Lawrie is really struggling to find any real form at the moment. “It’s the worst I’ve played for three or four years, to be honest,” declared the 44-year-old.
“There were no drivers out there, but I just kept hitting in the hay and chopping it out. I just played awful. I need to go out tomorrow and try to get a bit of feel. There’s nothing else I can do.”
Unsurprisingly, Laird was a lot happier with his day’s work, which, after he’d got to three- under at turn, threatened to have the gloss taken off it by a run of three bogeys in five holes from the tenth. But a birdie at the 17th ensured dinner tasted good. “Apart from a couple of poorish shots in the middle, I played really well,” reported the three-times PGA Tour winner, including this year’s Texas Open.
“Last week (in the Scottish Open) I said the greens weren’t fast enough – it’s definitely not an issue this week and I feel more comfortable on these greens. (At Castle Stuart) I had to remind myself to hit it. Here I don’t have to think of the speed. I just feel the speed.”
On his debut in the event, Marc Warren posted a pretty polished 72 that contained 15 pars while Grant Forrest, the Scottish Amateur champion, finished with a flourish, covering the last four in two-under, for an admirable 73.
“I got off to a decent start, then struggled for the rest of the front nine but I ground it out and hit it a lot better on the back nine,” said Warren. “I was struggling to get it close enough to give myself real birdie chances. But I hit a lot of greens on the back nine. Overall I am really pleased with one-over.”
Like Lawrie, however, the rest of the Scots have their work cut out to be around for the weekend. Former champion Sandy Lyle shot a 76, as did Stephen Gallacher, George Murray and Richie Ramsay, while Scott Jamieson and Lloyd Saltman had 79 and 80 respectively.
“It was brutal,” claimed Gallacher in echoing some of the comments made by other players. “The greens were almost ridiculous, and it’s as stressed as I’ve been on a golf course.
“The difference between Tuesday is unbelievable. If you hit it the wrong side of the hole, you couldn’t get it within five feet.”
He also claimed the putting green had been “about eight-foot slower” compared to the ones on the course.
That obviously didn’t pose too many problems for another Lothians-based player as Gareth Wright marked his debut in the world’s oldest major with a level-par 71.
“I’m really pleased with that,” admitted the Welshman, who has lived in Edinburgh for close to 17 years, is attached to West Linton and plays on the Tartan Tour. “I played with Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood in one of my practice rounds and that definitely helped me in terms of first-tee nerves today.”