The rollercoaster at the Pleasure Beach looms over Blackpool, producing whoops of delight and screams of fear. The big one of a possible Open Championship was, in contrast, conducted in near silence by Paul Lawrie yesterday. His round, though, in terms of highs and lows made The Big One seem as exciting as a seat on a comfy settee in front of Antiques Roadshow.
Lawrie found this a testing afternoon when his game was just short of a satisfying solidity and his play from the tee must have given him moments of disquiet. It was impossible to tell. Lawrie, dressed in black, made Johnny Cash seem like a drama queen. He shot a round in Lytham just to watch us sigh. The Aberdonian, at 43, allowed himself only the occasional grunt and that when powering the ball from the rough. This speaks to both his temperament and his play from the tee.
If there was a consistent equanimity about Lawrie's reactions to the highs and lows, there was a worrying inconsistency about his tee shots. It would be absurd to expect anyone to drive straight and true on a links course at every hole and Lawrie would watch with a face worthy of a slot on Mount Rushmore when they would dive right or occasionally left. This being Lytham for the Open, these aberrations found grass so long that players whistle when they head into the rough so their caddies can find them.
Yet the Scot endured and survived. He racked up two, awful double bogeys and bogeyed a par-5. However, four excellent birdies, built on the back of strong putting from 10ft inwards, left him just six shots behind the leader with 36 holes to play.
Lawrie began steadily like a buggy chugging to the top of the ride and he came home with a breezy confidence in the light wind. It was the period from the seventh to the 12th that swooped and rose in stomach-churning fashion. In that stretch he scored 6, 4, 2, 6, 4, 5. The last was a par-three.
It was then that the quiet march of Lawrie stuttered. He stumbled but he did not fall. The two double bogeys were ridiculous for a player of his steadiness. The first, at the 10th, followed a tee shot that found a bad lie in rough. Lawrie then knocked his second into a bunker, played a wonderful recovery and three-putted from eight feet. "That was just a shocker," he said later. The only sign of distress at the time was that Dave Kenny, his caddie, kept his distance on the tee at 11.
Lawrie then committed his second double bogey. A five-iron went awry on the 12th and a Lawrie chip dribbled off the green. "A huge mistake," he said. He was then standing at three under for the championship when once he held second place with six under.
"My head was a wee bit scrambled, as you can imagine," he said later. There was no visible evidence of this in Lawrie's subsequent demeanour or shot-making. "There were all sorts going on," he said in quiet bemusement but the Scot birdied the 14th to continue the theme of rollercoastering through his second round.
Four pars brought the buggy to a gentle end, though the past winner could and should have birdied the last after an excellent drive and approach shot to eight feet. "One over par is a good effort," he mused in that understated way of a round that had more drama than a box-set of Downton Abbey.
He now faces a weekend of unimaginable excitement. Unimaginable, that is, for all but Lawrie. He came from 10 shots back to win the Open at Carnoustie in 1999 in weather that chilled the bones and on a course so severe it did the same. "I have not had a chance to win this tournament since," he said yesterday, with the prospect of a repeat galvanising him to "keep grinding away".
There are grounds for optimism for Lawrie. First, apart from the bizarre three-putt on 10, he struck the ball with a sureness on the green and was impeccable with "clutch" putts. Second, the Aberdonian is playing with belief. His mental strength was obvious when he teed off in the early afternoon and it was crucial to his scorecard after the trials of the turn."The fact that I have been on a good run helps," said Lawrie who has profited in both financial and emotional terms from compiling six top-10 finishes this season. He added: "I am in a good place."
This is made obvious by a keek at the leaderboard. Only Brandt Snedeker, Adam Scott, Tiger Woods and Thorbjorn Oleson have bettered his efforts over two days. There is also the promise of strong winds tomorrow and that information did not dismay the Scot. "It would be nice if it blew a bit over the weekend," he said almost to himself.
But there was nary a crack of a smile lest he be accused of breaking out into an orgy of contentment. The line was straight, unwavering. Lawrie has a job to do over the next two days and he does not expect to see his sons, Craig and Michael, in the gallery. "They've got the Royal Aberdeen junior open today and the Royal Desside junior medal tomorrow," he said.
The Big One at Blackpool plunged in the distance. The big one at Royal Lytham will be won by a player who is not swayed by emotion, not driven high by success or taken low by events. Lawrie's triumph is that he fits this description. His major problem is so do others. He has, however, booked his seat on golf's big one this weekend.
Contextual targeting label: