Lawrie and Lyle still competitive at Scottish Open

ONE has needed a sponsor’s invitation; the other is getting into European Tour events this season through career earnings. Don’t for one minute, however, be fooled into thinking that either Sandy Lyle or Paul Lawrie feels resigned to making up the numbers these days in events such as the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open.
Paul Lawrie slaps on the sun screen before his practice round at Gullane yesterday.  Picture: Gordon FraserPaul Lawrie slaps on the sun screen before his practice round at Gullane yesterday.  Picture: Gordon Fraser
Paul Lawrie slaps on the sun screen before his practice round at Gullane yesterday. Picture: Gordon Fraser

Both are still as fiercely competitive as they were when becoming major winners – in Lyle’s case when he became Open champion in 1985 then added The Masters three years later and, for Lawrie, when he lifted the Claret Jug in 1999. In short, neither will ever lose his thirst for success at the top level.

The juices really get flowing when this particular fortnight on the calendar comes around. As past champions, of course, both Lyle and Lawrie are in next week’s Open Championship at St Andrews, where, incidentally, Stephen Gallacher and Marc Warren are the only other Scots in the line-up as things stand. That can wait, though. This week is first on the agenda.

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“I am not going to Gullane and St Andrews simply to make up numbers, definitely not,” insisted Lyle. “More so Gullane could be anybody’s type golf course and I’ve played it quite a few times, including a British Youths in the 1970s. I like to play well in the Scottish Open and I haven’t produced the results I was looking for in recent years.

“I still get a buzz and I feel there have been improvements in my game in the putting. I have made a little grip change. I am holding the club more in the palm of my hand, rather than the fingers, and the impact zone feels really comfortable and it has revitalised a lot of my solid hits and given me more control, especially with the wedges.

“It has improved my short game and I am hitting the ball a lot more consistently. It was David Frost who had been working with a guy and he passed on the info to me, saying try this grip with your right hand.”

Lawrie is feeling equally bullish, helped by the fact he feels injury-free for the first time in ages. “I feel good,” said the Aberdonian. “Munich (where he tied for 29th in the BMW International Open a fortnight ago) was the first time in well over a year that I actually hit it normally, ie I stood up and had a couple of good hits at it.

“I’ve been poking at it a wee bit because I’ve been feeling a bit iffy. It’s been the back and the neck and it’s hard to give it a proper go when you’re struggling with those niggles. I hit some decent drivers in Germany and I feel 100 per cent physically now, for the first time in 
18 months.”

“I don’t practise as much as I used to on purpose. As you get older you don’t. I now hit a 
couple of hundred balls a day, as opposed to 600 or 700 a day. I do it in blocks now. I’ll hit 100 then have a sit down and a cup of tea and come back and do some chipping and that. The days of standing for four hours slogging balls are, thankfully, long behind me.”

Lawrie spent a fair bit of time yesterday practising his chipping. He will get his first hit on the course today, but he knows what to expect from walking round it earlier in the year. “It’s a nice course and apparently the condition is second to none,” he said. “A few of the boys thought Royal Aberdeen (last year’s venue) was a little too tough. No one moaned about it or said that. But I don’t think anyone wants battered the week before the Open. Royal Aberdeen is just a fantastic course and if it’s windy you will get battered.”

It would be great for the home fans to see either Lawrie or Lyle – Colin Montgomerie, too – making his presence felt on the East Lothian coast and, for that matter, on the other side of the Firth of Forth next week when St Andrews hosts the 144th Championship.

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“I feel I’ve got a chance to ruffle a few feathers,” said Lyle in casting his eye to that event. “It’s a course I am very familiar with and it’s not all about power. It’s about positioning your shots. Dustin Johnson can bring the course to its knees, but it’s all about putting your ball in the right spot.”

The 57-year-old added: “Tom Watson at Turnberry in 2009 gave everybody huge inspiration. It was unbelievable. I actually said when I was with a bunch of other players – Henrik Stenson was among them – the previous week, ‘how about Tom Watson?’ and they all booed me and told me to get back to the Champions Tour. But I almost had the last laugh in the end. I know how well he can play. He was just a few inches away from making history.”