Paul Lawrie delivered another reminder to the golfing world that he is now a genuine top class performer by moving into a tie for the lead after two rounds of the World Golf Championships-NEC Invitational at Firestone Country Club, Akron, Ohio.
The Open champion from Aberdeen shot rounds of 67 and 68 to share first place with Carlos Franco of Paraguay on a day when he had to play 36 holes over one of America’s most mentally and physically demanding courses.
Lawrie showed he was up to the task by firing an opening three under par 67 to trail Tiger Woods at lunch. Then as many players began to struggle in the afternoon – most notably Jose Maria Olazabal who followed a 70 with an 80 – Lawrie stayed fully focused.
A dropped shot at the 15th in his afternoon round of 68 deprived him of the chance to lead outright, but it was nevertheless an outstanding effort by the gritty competitor from the North of Scotland.
Franco shot 68 and 67 while Phil Mickelson, Hal Sutton and Nick Price were a further stroke behind on 136, with Sergio Garcia and Woods and a group a further stroke adrift.
Lawrie, now the proud owner of a new Porsche and a new home in the suburbs of his native Aberdeen, is enjoying the trappings of success – but winning the Open at Carnoustie has sharpened, rather than dulled, his appetite for further success.
He has grown into the endless rounds of media scrutiny and is as relaxed off the course as he is focused on it. He has the air of someone at ease with his situation, and admitted that was indeed the case.
He said: “Yes, I do feel more at ease. I know that if I play well I’m going to have a chance of winning, wherever I play. When things don’t go well, I know I have enough good shots in me to pull things around.
“It’s great fun to play against these guys and to play well against them, but I’m just going out to do the same thing tomorrow and see what happens. They are the best in the world and that gives you confidence.
“Everything has happened pretty fast for me but I’ve been practicing a long time for these things to happen. Now they are coming along I feel comfortable with my position. I don’t feel out of my depth. There are great players playing every week but I don’t see why I can’t beat them on a regular basis.”
While Lawrie left the best players on the planet looking up at his name on the top of the leaderboard, Garcia gave another passable impression of a young man reaching for the stars.
He followed an opening 67 with a level par 70 to sit just two strokes off the lead and confessed: “It’s been a very long day but I’m happy to be in this position without playing particularly well. It’s very tight at the top and two or three under tomorrow can help me improve my position.”
Padraig Harrington, playing in the USA for the first time professionally, added a fine round of 67 to an opening 72 to be tied for 14th place on 139. He said: “That was a bit better. I wasn’t sure of my lines on the first round and made a few mistakes but I was pleased to shoot 67 in the afternoon.”
Andrew Coltart shot two rounds of 71 to finish on 142, the same mark as Miguel Angel Jimenez (72, 70). Colin Montgomerie followed a promising 69 with a disappointing 75 while several of the European hopes faded in the Ohio sunshine.
Jesper Parnevik joined Montgomerie on 144 while Darren Clarke was on 145, Lee Westwood and Jean Van de Velde 146 and Olazabal propping up the field on 150.