It was one of those typical windy days at Craigielaw and more of the same will do Paul Lawrie nicely in his bid to make a winning debut in the Scottish Senior Open on the East Lothian coast.
After signing for an opening three-under-par 68, the 50-year-old Aberdonian leads by a shot from Spanish pair Miguel Angel Martin and Jose Manuel Carriles, as well as American Tim Thelen, in the £250,000 tournament.
Lawrie, who is playing in just his third regular event on the Staysure Tour, got into his stride with birdies at the second and third, and added two more at the ninth and 12th before dropping his only shot of the round at the 15th.
It was a good day’s work in his first competitive outing on the course, though you had a feeling that it might be up his street, especially in conditions that required knockdown shots.
“I played nicely,” he said. “It was tough. My attitude is good on days like this; just get it on the green, get the ball back in your stance, take speed off it, chip it in low. That’s what you have to do and my record in this type of weather is good. Every shot you’re battling the weather on every hole.”
Playing in the group behind, Andrew Oldcorn joked that Lawrie must have had a good day on the greens due to the fact that all he’d seen was the sight of his fellow Scot’s backside as he picked the ball out of the hole. Lawrie reckoned that was a slight exaggeration but admitted with a smile: “I holed out well.”
As has been the case since he started playing again at the start of the year following an injury lay-off, Lawrie laboured a bit towards the end due to a troublesome back. “Every day is the same,” he said of that. “Five or six holes to go my back starts stiffening up a bit and I have to prod it a bit and I can’t hit it the way I want to. That’s what it’s going to be, though. You have to make as many birdies as you can early on before it stiffens up and you start hitting it all over the place. Just getting old.”
In a practice round next door at Kilspindie earlier in the week, the 1999 Open champion had been nine-under before losing a ball at the last. He’s now working with sports psychologist Karl Morris and some of his advice probably helped him make his best birdie of the day.
“On 12, it was howling right to left, I hit a lovely drive into the left rough, wasn’t sure if it would be a flyer, played for a flyer and got it past the pin and holed it from 30 feet,” said the leader. “That was after a shocking five at 11. I was only chipping an 8-iron in, at the par-5, trying to keep it left and hit it way right and made five. That was disappointing, but to make a birdie after that was very good. This was a decent score and we’ll need a few of these. But I’m ready for that.”
Fifteen years after winning this event at The Roxburghe, 66-year-old Bill Longmuir opened with a one-under 70, matching an earlier effort by 62-year-old Ross Drummond as they joined Lawrie in ending day one inside the top ten.
Longmuir, left, who spends half of the year these days at Royal Westmoreland in Barbados and the other half at Les Bordes in France, holed a wedge from 98 yards for an eagle-2 at the ninth before getting to four-under two holes later only to drop three shots over the closing stretch.
“Nearly,” he said, still managing to raise a smile afterwards. “I three-putted the 13th after hitting the most beautiful second shot only to see it come back down the slope and that’s when the wheels came off as I then putted off the green at the 14th.
“This is my 16th year out on this tour and I honestly didn’t think I’d still be playing. The body is not too bad, though it is starting to break down a little bit with my fingers causing some problems.”
Drummond, who is chasing a breakthrough win in his 13th season on the over-50s circuit, was equally pleased with his opening salvo. “I’ve not scored well so far this season, so I am happy with that,” said the tall Paisley-based player.
Oldcorn was next best among the Scots on 71, one less than defending champion Gary Orr, while Sandy Lyle, who dropped five shots in five holes coming home, had to settle for a 74 along with Stephen McAllister.