British Open: Former champ Lawrie back in hunt
Lytham St Annes (England): Paul Lawrie etched his name into British Open history more than a decade ago with one of the game`s most memorable finishes.
On Thursday, he launched a bid to reclaim some of that glory with a sparkling start, chipping in twice in the first five holes during his opening round at Royal Lytham to close within a stroke of leader Adam Scott.
"Very strange start. Probably the strangest start of my career," Lawrie said. "I didn`t hit many good shots and I was 3 under."
A 5-under 65 also matched his best round in an Open and raised Lawrie`s hopes of reversing a lackluster record since his 1999 win. Lawrie has seven missed cuts and no finish higher than 42nd since his infamous triumph at Carnoustie, where he took advantage of Jean Van de Velde`s 72nd-hole implosion to win a three-man playoff with the Frenchman and Justin Leonard.
The 43-year-old Lawrie arrived for the Open playing well enough to contend for a spot on Europe`s team for the Ryder Cup in September. He won the Qatar Masters in February and finished tied for second at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth — two events played in baking hot conditions.
Those wins belied his reputation as a player who thrives mostly in bad weather. So did his quick start in the warm, dry conditions at Lytham.
"I`ve won tournaments when the weather has been particularly nasty, so you can see where it comes from," he said. "But I can play when it`s flat calm. You`ve just got to adapt your game.
"Nowadays the bad weather doesn`t just suit the British and Scottish players; these American boys and all of them can play in the weather, the wind."
If Lawrie`s chip-ins at Nos. 3 and 5 were surprising, what happened at No. 6 was just weird. Lawrie was preparing to tee off when he saw a distant figure out of the corner of his eye.
It was Matt Kuchar, who was playing a group behind, but wandering along the fairway up to the tee box where Lawrie was standing. Kuchar apparently lost his bearings after putting out on the fifth green. After a brief pause, Lawrie ended up pulling his drive, then had to scramble to make par.
"It can happen — we`re in our own wee world most of the time," Lawrie said with a chuckle. "It was quite funny when he put his hands in the air."
Birdies at Nos. 14 and 15 were followed by another at the last, where a great approach skipped onto the green and finished 3 feet from the flag.
Even the English were impressed with the Scotsman`s play.
"I heard my name quite a lot today, which down in England you can be a wee bit surprised at, I guess," he said.
Lawrie surprised some by pulling out of last month`s brutal U.S. Open at The Olympic Club, claiming he had more chance of winning at a tournament played in Germany the week after.
His motivation was gaining Ryder Cup points. Lawrie hasn`t played for Europe since the team`s loss to the United States in 1999 at Brookline, Mass.
It also left him fresher for his run at three straight links tournaments: the Irish Open, Scottish Open and British Open.
That exposure to the links is paying dividends, with Lawrie`s 65 equaling the score he made in his final round at Royal St. George`s in 1993.
"Let`s hope I can keep going this week," he said. "But there`s a long way to go."
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