Evergreen Paul Lawrie cards his best Open score

INSPIRED by a hug from golfing legend Arnold Palmer, Paul Lawrie opened with his best-ever round to par in the Open Championship, boosting the Aberdonian’s hopes of getting into his own tournament in a fortnight’s time without having to hand himself an invitation.

Scotlands Paul Lawrie tees off on the 17th during a round of 66 his best score to par in 69 rounds at the Open. Picture: Jane Barlow

On the other side of the Tay Estuary from his 1999 win at Carnoustie, the 46-year-old carded a six-under-par 66 at St Andrews to sit one shot behind the leader, big-hitting American Dustin Johnson, in a six-way tie for second spot.

Lawrie had a 65 in the final round of his second Open at Royal St George’s in 1993 before starting with the same score at Royal Lytham three years ago, but on both occasions the par was 70, making this the best he has managed in relation to par in 69 rounds in the world’s oldest major.

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While too long in the tooth to be getting carried away on the basis of one day’s work, Lawrie was delighted nonetheless with his eye-catching effort, which was backed up by compatriot Marc Warren as he opened with a four-under-par 68 to sit just outside the top ten.

Lawrie, who held the outright lead at one point after getting to seven-under-par before dropping his only shot of the day at the notorious Road Hole, said he’d been inspired by playing with seven-times major winner Palmer in the Champions’ Challenge on the eve of the 144th Open. “It was unbelievably cool to play with him yesterday,” confessed the two-times Ryder Cup player. “He hit two shots at the first and then didn’t hit any more. But I absolutely loved just being out there with him. Darren Clarke and I had a whale of a time with him and he gave me a wee hug at the last and said, ‘fantastic playing’ when I holed a putt at 18. That was a nice moment.”

Lawrie is excited that he has enticed the 1995 Open champion, John Daly, to play in the new match-play event on the European Tour bearing his name at Murcar Links in a fortnight’s time. To free up the second invitation on offer rather than having to give it to himself, though, the eight-times European Tour winner is going to have to either lift the Claret Jug for a second time or go damn close.

“As it stands, I need to invite myself to my own tournament, which I will do, obviously,” he said, laughing. “But I think I might get in without needing to do that if I win this week. We announced on Monday that John Daly had accepted an invitation and we’re all very excited about that. Mike Loggie of Saltire Energy, the title sponsor, is a big fan of John, who hasn’t played in Aberdeen before, I don’t think, so he can’t wait to meet him and play with him. And the second invite will be me as it stands.”

In addition to his Open victory, Lawrie has two other successes on Scottish soil to his name, having landed the Dunhill Links Championship on this course in 2001 then winning the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles three years ago. “It is always really cool to play golf in Scotland in front of the best fans in the world and I tend to play better in front of them,” he admitted. “I don’t feel pressure. I feel the opposite. I feel a bit more relaxed and play some nice golf.

“I’m very pleased with this start, having managed to take advantage of calm-ish conditions, but it’s only the first round and there’s a long, long way to go. I’m not even thinking about Sunday yet. Right now I’m thinking about my lunch as I’m pretty hungry.”

A yellow weather warning has been issued for today, but Lawrie, better than most in bad conditions, played down talk that it could be in his favour.