Smile back on Paul Lawrie after opening 66 at British Open

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland (AP) — For a player who has struggled to raise a smile on a golf course in recent months, Paul Lawrie sure is having fun at St. Andrews this week.

On the eve of the British Open, Lawrie was dancing a jig and pretending to gun-sling with his golf club during a pre-tournament exhibition in which he played — and won — alongside Arnold Palmer.

A day later, the Scotsman thrilled his home crowd by rolling back the years and shooting a 6-under 66 over the Old Course to lie a stroke behind early leader Dustin Johnson.

Lawrie is aged 46 and ranked No. 346, and hasn’t come close to contending in a major since rallying from 10 shots behind in the final round to win the British Open at Carnoustie in 1999. Few will forget that finish, with Lawrie relying on a triple-bogey on the 72nd hole by Jean Van der Velde to make a three-man playoff.

The last three years, in particular, have been lean for Lawrie, who has become exasperated by his putting problems. So much so, that spectators shouted “Smile!” at him as he trudged around the Gullane links at the Scottish Open last week.

Lawrie said it all felt so easy on Thursday as he rolled in seven birdies in the first 13 holes to briefly take the lead.

“Pretty much every chance I had today I took, which hasn’t happened for a while,” he said.

Lawrie has been described as a player who thrives in bad conditions, ever since that victory over a tough track at Carnoustie.

He gets touchy about that, and in conditions favorable for low scoring, he showed he can compete with the world’s best. Living up to his nickname “Chippy,” he produced one of the shots of the day when he hit a wedge shot from rough behind the 15th tee to within inches of the cup on No. 14 and rescued a par.

The smile was definitely back on his face then.

The question is, can he live with the likes of Johnson and Jordan Spieth for three more days?

Lawrie hasn’t shot under par or finished better than 26th place at a British Open since 1999. He hasn’t won a tournament since 2012, and a 20th place in Abu Dhabi in January is his highest finish this year.

“There’s an unbelievable amount of world-class players playing this week,” Lawrie said. “I’m not even thinking about Sunday as of yet.”

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