Lawrie shot a 65, despite bogeying the par-four third, to lead Colin Montgomerie. Lawrie made up for his bogey with an eagle on the ninth, a hole that all the players except Miguel Angel Jiminez beat par. Lawrie's eagle brought him a watch as a prize, and when told it was the same as Ernie Els wears, his response was: "As long as I can win two majors like him, I'll be happy."
Lawrie was not perturbed by critics who suggest his win at The Open was a fluke. "As long as I play the way I know I can play, I can win tournaments. Then people can say what they want about me."
Plagued by a painful right ankle, Lawrie has been able to cope with that, even though he limps noticeably as he walks. However, the limp is brought on by blisters caused by an ankle brace he is wearing. At one stage Lawrie had to receive on course treatment from the tournament physiotherapist.
"The ankle itself is fine, but the blisters are a problem. That's when I asked if the physiotherapist could come and patch me up," Lawrie said.
Montgomerie, who shot a 66, got off to a flying start when he birdied the first three holes at the Gary Player Country Club course.
A dropped shot on the par-three 12th spoiled a fine day for Montgomerie after a tight battle with his playing partner, Ernie Els, the South African favourite who is a shot behind on five-under par.
"Seven birdies, one dropped shot, 66 is good. When I won this event I started with a 65," Montgomerie said. "I'm a great believer in the fact that, with a limited field and no cut, you can only lose it today, you can't win it. But the scoring conditions were good today, the greens weren't that fast."
The slow greens played havoc with the teenager Sergio Garcia, playing in his first Million Dollar event. The Spaniard is six shots off the pace on one-under par.
"I hit the ball pretty well and hit some putts, but it just doesn't want to go in," said the 19-year-old, who admitted he was tired after a long trip to South Africa this week. "I just can't make putts on these greens. I'm probably not as fresh as I was a couple of months before. Maybe I'll go and see the animals [in the nearby game park], get scared, and come back and play some golf."
Maybe a new caddie will help. Yesterday it was revealed that Fanny Sunesson, who split with Nick Faldo last month, will carry the young Spaniard's bag. Sunesson has agreed to work with Garcia at Tiger Woods' new tournament in Scottsdale, Arizona, from 29 December to 2 January.
Garcia will have to go some here if he is to catch the leaders which include the American John Huston The 15th ranked player in the world is lying joint third with Els after hitting a 67, including an eagle on the 10th. The defending champion, Nick Price, bidding for his fourth Million Dollar title and his third in a row, is joint fourth with England's Lee Westwood on four under par.
Jose Maria Olazabal, the US Masters champion, is a shot further behind. However, Olazabal's fellow Spaniard, Jimenez, had a disastrous round, hitting five bogeys to trail the elite 12-man field on four over par, four shots adrift of Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke.
MILLION DOLLAR CHALLENGE (Sun City, South Africa): First round scores: 65 P Lawrie (GB). 66 C Montgomerie (GB). 67 J Huston (US), E Els (SA). 68 L Westwood (GB), N Price (Zim). 69 J M Olazabal (Sp). 70 C Franco (Par), J Furyk (US). 71 S Garcia (Sp). 72 D Clarke (Irl). 76 M A Jiminez (Sp).