The Open: Paul Lawrie tames Royal Lytham with perfect short game
PAUL Lawrie produced a short-game masterclass to get off to his best-ever start in the Open Championship, the Scot’s opening effort only being eclipsed by Adam Scott, who enjoyed “a walk in the park” to set the pace in Lancashire.
On a day of two halves – it was warm and windless in the morning before turning cold and slightly wet in the afternoon – Scott’s 64 equalled the lowest score in the event at Royal Lytham, although the par was 71 when American Tom Lehman set the record on the way to winning in 1996. It is now one fewer.
That earned the Australian a one-stroke lead over two former major winners, 1999 Open champion Lawrie and Zach Johnson, the 2007 Masters winner, as well as big-hitting Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts.
In fourth place, American Brandt Snedeker is a further shot behind 32-year-old Scott, whose birthday was on Monday, when he found it amusing that his
parents bought him a golf bag for a present.
Colsaerts and Snedeker apart, all the leaders made the most of the easier morning conditions in the event’s 141st staging, as did three-times winner Tiger Woods, 2002 champion Ernie Els, current Masters champion Bubba Watson and Graeme McDowell, the 2010 US Open winner. They all positioned themselves nicely on the leaderboard with 67s.
Of the afternoon starters, Rory McIlroy, who felled a 16-year-old spectator with a wayward drive that cost him a double-bogey at the 15th, also finished on that mark, as did American Steve Stricker, who holed his second shot at the 13th, and Japanese player Toshinori Muto.
Whereas Scott, whose best finish in this event was eighth at Hoylake in 2006, made his score with a run of five birdies in six holes from the 11th – he bogeyed the last to come home in 32 – Lawrie did most of his good work at the start. He chipped in twice – at the third and the fifth – and also holed a putt from off the green for a par at the sixth. He only had six putts in the first six holes and ended up with just 23 in total, a staggering effort.
His only dropped shot stemmed from straying into a bunker at the eighth but three more birdies coming home, including one at the last, where he hit a 7-iron to a couple of feet, contributed to a splendid day’s work by the 43-year-old.
“We get enough bad luck so it’s nice when it goes your way now and again,” said Lawrie of his chip-ins, though both were actually down to his genius with a wedge in his hand rather than luck.
“After that I played some solid golf. I drove the ball in the right places and had the chance to attack the course a bit.”
His 65, which came in his 59th round in the event, equalled the Aberdonian’s lowest Open score – the first one came in the third round at Royal St George’s in 1993 – and was only the second time he’d managed to break 70 in the first round, having opened with a 69 at St Andrews two years ago before following that with an 82 on a gale-torn day on the Old Course to miss the cut.
“It’s a great start,” added the world No 31, who has missed the cut seven times in 12 stagings since he claimed the Claret Jug at Carnoustie. “I’ve been playing really nicely this year and hopefully I can keep it going this week. If I’m in this position with nine holes to play on Sunday, then you know you’ve had a good week.”
Scott, who first underlined his enormous potential when winning the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles – Raymond Russell finished second in that event and Sam Torrance third – with a 26-under-par total, attributed his flying start to being focused from the off.
“My goal was to play today like it was Sunday and there was no tomorrow,” said the man from Adelaide. It was his caddie, Steve Williams, who was responsible for that. “We talked about that mindset because I had shot myself in the foot in the first round in the majors this year [he opened with scores of 75 and 76 in The Masters and US Open respectively but still managed to finish eighth and 15th],” added Scott.
“He [Williams] wanted me to go to the first tee today like it was the 72nd hole and you need a three to win. That was a good trigger he helped me with and it was just like a nice little walk in the park today.”
While Scott has chalked up eight career wins on both the European and PGA Tours, he
admitted his goals won’t have been fully achieved until he adds a major to that CV.
“It’s been a good career. I’ve won a couple of tournaments most years, which is a good habit to have because it’s getting harder and harder to win out here,” he said. “But I won’t have achieved the goals I made when I turned pro until I win a major or more.”
Scott, who is bidding to follow in the spikemarks of compatriot Peter Thomson, the winner here in 1958, found it funny that a professional golfer should be given an item connected to his profession as a birthday present. “It was quite an interesting gift,” he remarked to a bout of laughter.
“It’s a very nice golf bag – a small little leather one – and I will use it at home if I carry my clubs. But I thought it was quite a funny present to give me.”
One of the presents delivered by Mother Nature this week is thick rough, the product of recent rain. And, as Tiger Woods predicted earlier in the week, that did lead to at least one player finding a lie so thick that he decided to deem it unplayable. After much humming and hawing, USPGA champion Keegan Bradley decided to take his medicine at the 14th en route to a 71.
Phil Mickelson did likewise from just above the face of a bunker at the seventh after trying to be too greedy from the sand, last year’s joint runner-up having a disappointing day in general as he had to settle for a 73. That was still three better than Darren Clarke, who is in grave danger of seeing his title defence end after tonight’s cut following an error-strewn opening effort. “A bad day at the office,” reported the Ulsterman afterwards.
In truth, he’s been in stinking form for the past 12 months. In contrast, Johnson is a rejuvenated man, the 36-year-old having won twice on the PGA Tour this year, including a play-off triumph last Sunday in the John Deere Classic. His gameplan this week is simple. “My whole philosophy is avoiding those fairway bunkers and hitting solid shots into the greens because I’m putting fine,” he said.
Colsaerts, who is playing in the event for the first time since missing the cut at Troon eight years ago, used an eagle-2 at the second, where he holed an 8-iron from close to 200 yards, as the foundation for his eye-catching opening effort. “I had it on a needle early on, hitting it straight at the flag at the first then holing at the second,” said the 29-year-old. “It was a lot of very good shots in succession early on.”
That was also the theme of Woods’ round. Bidding to win his first major in more than four years, he got it to four-under after seven and was still on that mark with four to play before a wayward tee shot – it was with a utility club on a day when he only used his driver twice – cost him his only bogey of the day at the 15th. “It was a good start and I was just lacking a little pace of the greens coming home,” he said. While Els, McDowell, Watson and McIlroy also made encouraging starts, world No 1 Luke Donald bogeyed the last for a 70, while third-ranked Lee Westwood is facing a battle to make the cut on home soil after a disappointing 73. He was two-under after two but had the wind taken out of his sails by a double-bogey at the third and staggered home in 40.
Paul Casey, who had come into the event bereft of confidence after an appalling run of form, was going well for a while, but stumbled towards the end for a 72, leaving James Morrison, on two-under, as the leading English player at the end of day one.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east