Couples cruises as Lawrie lives a nightmare

Sergio Garcia, who finished last a year ago, and Paul Lawrie, last year's winner, found their roles reversed at St Andrews today.

Sergio Garcia, who finished last a year ago, and Paul Lawrie, last year's winner, found their roles reversed at St Andrews today.

While Garcia built a challenge for the Open championship with three birdies in his first seven holes, Lawrie's reign as champion was stuttering to a halt.

The 31-year-old Scot, who refused to blame his poor performance on a wrist injury suffered when a youngster he was coaching hit him, probably needed a 66 to survive the halfway cut.

But he could manage only a level par front nine of 36 and then double-bogeyed the 314-yard 12th. It left him eight over - 16 strokes behind playing partner Fred Couples.

The 40-year-old American, who sot 70 on his first day, birdied the second, fourth, seventh and eighth for an outward 32, and picked up further shots on the 14th and 15th to take the lead from compatriot Steve Flesch.

Left-hander Flesch, joint second overnight with Tiger Woods a shot behind Ernie Els, was two ahead at eight under after an eagle at the 14th, but then drove into the Sutherland pot bunker at the next, bogeyed and fell back into a tie with Garcia.

Els failed to keep up the momentum of his opening 66, three-putting the 397-yard third. His second putt was from less than three feet.

Woods was among the later starters, but 20-year-old Garcia, runner-up to the world number one at the US PGA championship last August, followed up his 68 by pitching to six feet on the first and then two-putting the 568-yard fifth. An 18-footer on the seventh brought him alongside Flesch.

Van de Velde kept himself in the hunt to make amends for last year. Only one under overnight he birdied the fifth, seventh and ninth to improve to four under and joint sixth place with a group which also included Masters champion Vijay Singh and yet to tee off Padraig Harrington and Ian Garbutt.

The axe was likely to fall at level par tonight.

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