British OpenJuly 16, 2015

Paul Lawrie is turning back the clock at St. Andrews

That Paul Lawrie should begin the 144th Open Championship with a 6-under round of 66 over the Old Course at St. Andrews was surprising. And yet not surprising.

The 2014-'15 European Tour season has not been kind to the man who was the biggest beneficiary of Jean Van de Velde's infamous largesse at Carnoustie in 1999. In 10 starts, the 46-year old Scot has only once cracked the top-20 -- on three occasions he has failed to complete 72-holes. His putting, once a strength of his game, has been inconsistent at best, close to hopeless at its nadir.

On the other hand, Lawrie must be close to the best player in the world while wearing a waterproof jacket. While he was quick to knock on the head any notion that he can only play well in foul conditions -- " I never wish for it to blow a gale or pour with rain" -- there is no doubt that he handles meteorological adversity better than most.

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There was also encouragement from his most recent competitive outing. Lawrie's T-17 finish at last week's Scottish Open was his best of the year, the product of four days of solid ball-striking and an overall disappointing display on the Gullane greens. So he was heading in the right direction, needing only some inspiration with the shortest club in his bag.

It arrived at the Home of Golf. En route to making seven birdies -- and a lone bogey at the infamous 17th, the hardest hole on the Old Course -- Lawrie used his putter only 25 times. Holing a bunker shot for a birdie on the second hole helped, too.

"I put a different grip on my putter," he explained. "I just thought I'd do something different. I've been putting nicely but just not making anything. While I've been hitting very few poor putts, I have struggled with my speed. But today I took pretty much every chance I had. That hasn't happened in a while."

Predictably for one so experienced, Lawrie wasn't getting too excited at his success -- "right now all I'm thinking about is my lunch." For one thing, he isn't even leading the championship. And for another, there are 54 holes still to play. But he has a lot to look forward to, quite apart from the next three days on a course where he won the 2001 Dunhill Links Championship (when he birdied the final hole from the Valley of Sin to clinch victory). In two weeks time Lawrie will compete in the 64-man Saltire Energy Paul Lawrie Match Play (a full European tour event) in his native Aberdeen.

"As it stands I have to invite myself to my own tournament," he said with a smile. "Which I will do. John Daly is the other invitee, which is very exciting."

Indeed, but not quite as much as much as an Open Championship on home ground.

"It's always really cool to play in Scotland in front of the best fans in the world," said Lawrie. "They cheer all the players, but when you're a Scot and you get it going out there you tend to hear your name a bit more than the guys you're playing with."

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