By Brian Keogh
The European Tour stands still for no man these days and while Peter Lawrie was pleased with his five-under par 67, the Dubliner was somewhat dismayed to find himself six shots behind Germany’s Martin Kaymer after the first round of the Portugal Masters at Victoria Clube de Golfe in Vilamoura.
The 22-year-old Dusseldorf rookie, took advantage of perfect morning conditions as he finished with five successive birdies for an 11-under par 61 that equalled the low round on the European Tour this season by Lee Westwood in last month’s Mercedes-Benz Championship and Thailand’s Chapcai Nirat’s in the TCL Classic on Hainan Island last March.
Only Nirat went on to win and Lawrie believes that while Kaymer is leading by three shots from Argentina’s Daniel Vancsik and Sweden’s Martin Erlandsson, he will find it tough to follow his feat when he takes on the firm and crusty Vilamoura greens in this afternoon’s second round
“I don’t think I’ve shot five under and finished up six behind the leader since my pitch and putt days,” said Lawrie, who needs another €150,000 to qualify for the Volvo Masters. “Let’s see how the leader does in the afternoon when the greens are as firm and crusty as they were today.”
It was a similar story for Kilkenny’s Gary Murphy, who followed Lawrie into the scorers hut to sign for a four under par 68.
He said: “I played lovely but holed nothing. The greens are firm and at the sixth I hit a five-iron that pitched at the pin and released about 20 yards up the green.”
On a day when a mentally tired Rory McIlroy shot 71 late in the afternoon, early starter Paul McGinley was happy with a three-under par 69 until he saw Kaymer’s score on the leaderboard.
“You shoot 69 and come in a see a 61,” McGinley said, shaking his head and smiling wryly. “It's a golf course that is over 7,000 yards long and the people at home will be looking at the coverage and thinking it must be a pitch-and-putt course. But there are a lot tough shots out there and a bit of grain in the greens. It just shows you the quality of golf we have on the European Tour.”
Amazingly, Westwood and Retief Goosen, who is playing his last European Tour event of the season, are tied for fourth with Frenchman Gregory Bourdy despite carding seven under par rounds of 65.
And that underlined the qualify of the golf played by Kaymer, who qualified for the tour through the Challenge Tour rankings and is 54th in the Order of Merit and the favourite to land the Rookie of the Year award.
After going out in four under par 32, he came home in 29 with birdies at the last five holes. Yet his 61 was still two strokes shy of his low round as a professional - a 13 under par 59 in the Habsberg Classic on the EPD mini tour last year.
“I've been waiting for this day for a couple of weeks," said Kaymer after his course record effort. “My putting has been so-so, but today every putt went in.”
England’s Justin Rose will need something special over the next three days to attain the top-two finish he needs to close the €250,000 gap on Ernie Els at the top of the Order of Merit after carding a 69 that left him tied for 44th place with McGinley and Damien McGrane.
Ulsterman Darren Clarke is just inside the projected cut mark after a two under par 70 while stablemate McIlroy confessed that mental fatigue affected his concentration as he signed for a one under par 71.
“It’s my sixth week out of seven so I am a little bit frazzled,” McIlroy confessed after a round that featured two birdies and three bogeys in his first seven holes. “I let a few things get to me out there and that is just tiredness.
“Overall it wasn’t very good but I’ll try to improve on it tomorrow morning, make the cut and hopefully have a good weekend. It’s okay - similar to the first rounds I had in the Dunhill Links (71) and Madrid (73) . I just didn’t play very well and struggled with my ball-striking and putting.”