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Lawrie digs deep but misses out on hole-in-one by a whisker

Paul Lawrie, the former Open champion, came within a whisker of winning an excavator for a hole in one on the opening day in Durban.

Sponsors Volvo are offering a €30,000 car for an ace at the 12th hole on the Durban Country Club course, as well as a €40,000 excavator at the par-3 15th and an FH Series truck for a hole-in-one on the short par-4 18th.

Lawrie's tee shot at the 15th rolled up to the hole and hit the bottom of the flagstick but bounced out rather than drop into the cup. "I hit a lovely shot which hit the pin but stayed out," he said. "I think we'd have a use for an excavator when I'm getting a new short-game area built at my centre in Aberdeen. It's a new Volvo I could do with but, if want to give me a digger, I'll take a digger."

Lawrie posted a three-under-par 69 and shared fourth place with his fellow Scots Scott Jamieson and Richie Ramsay. He had a strange start to his round, though, as he and Colin Montgomerie were delayed at the first green when they could not remove the flagstick.

"I've never seen that before: the pin was stuck but, normally, if you give a whack, as I did with the putter, it would come out," Lawrie said. "Graeme [Heinrich, Montgomerie's caddy] gave it a bit of a yank and the whole thing came out, damaging the hole in the process. It was a strange start but it was good to shoot three under. I didn't expect to come out of the blocks hitting it as solid as that."

Jamieson knows only too well what the weather can be like in the city. It was only last month that he won at nearby Royal Durban in an event reduced to 36 holes because of rain, although he revealed yesterday that he has still to receive the trophy.

Thongchai Jaidee, the one-time paratrooper from Thailand, finished a wet and windy opening day with a three-stroke lead over Ernie Els and Louis Oosthuizen.

However, his superb seven-under 65 was not the topic that Els found himself addressing later, but one particular shot from the Belgian, Nicolas Colsaerts. The Open champion could not believe his eyes when Europe's biggest hitter launched a drive of 419 yards at the downwind third hole.

"I've been coming here since 1986 and I've never seen a ball there, nobody has," Els said. "They should put a plaque down. It was from a different zip code – and I've got to compete against these guys."

Els had the last laugh, though. He matched his playing partner's birdie and out-scored him by five to keep his victory hopes firmly alive.

Meanwhile, Sweden's Henrik Stenson said he is prepared to support Montgomerie's bid for candidacy for the Ryder Cup captaincy.

It was Stenson who turned the captaincy meeting around three years ago with the result that the Scot was made Europe captain for Celtic Manor in 2010. "I guess it was me who proposed Monty, even though the committee at the time was considering other players," he recalled.

"The Ryder Cup is hugely important to the players, the captain and the European Tour so we have to pick the best man.

"Darren [Clarke] and Paul [McGinley] are the nominees but there has been some information in the last couple of days that we might consider it differently, so I still think it's more open. We all know of Monty's passion for the Ryder Cup and the effort he put into the captaincy in 2010; I am sure he would do the same and maybe more this time around if he was to be asked."

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