AUGUSTA, Ga. – A two-time winner in Europe over the past 13 months, Paul Lawrie wasn’t concerned about a lack of practice time before the Masters. The Scotsman has battled bronchitis for the past few weeks, and was so ill, in fact, that he could not defend his title at the Andalucia Open or play in Morocco the following week. Still “a little bit weak” when he arrived, he took it easy earlier this week at Augusta National, playing no more than nine holes per day, hitting only one basket of balls on the range.
Under the weather? Well, it sure didn’t look like it Thursday: Lawrie made two eagles on the back nine to shoot 3-under 69 and share the early lead. Not bad for one of the last players to earn a Masters berth.
At 43, Lawrie is experiencing something of a career resurgence. In March 2011, he won the Andalucia Open to end a nine-year winless drought on the PGA European Tour, and then, 11 months later, won the wind-shortened event in Qatar. Over that period, he has improved from No. 272 to No. 43 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
“I’m a better player now than I was 10 years ago, no question,” he said.
This is Lawrie’s first Masters appearance since 2004, and he hasn’t fared particularly well at Augusta National: three missed cuts in five previous starts here, with his best finish a tie for 15th. Nonetheless, he jumped into the early mix Thursday with eagles on Nos. 13 and 15, after a hybrid shot to 3 feet and a chip-in from the right of the green, respectively. Not even Lawrie could remember the last time he posted two eagles in a round.
For years, Lawrie challenged the popular belief that Jean Van de Velde lost the 1999 Open Championship, not that Lawrie actually won it. It wasn’t much of a debate, of course: The Frenchman took a triple-bogey 7 on the last hole at Carnoustie, then lost in a playoff.
Still, Lawrie said, “I tried to be fair, for a wee while, to change the way that people saw it, and I failed miserably. It doesn’t bother me anymore. I just sort of do what I do and get on with it. If people want to give me respect for what happened, then they can. And if they don’t, then it doesn’t bother me anymore.”
Asked to explain that different outlook, he said: “I just thought, Man, what are you battling this for? There’s just no point. People will respect you if you win tournaments.”
After Day 1 at Augusta, he’s at least in position to make a run at another major title.