Sunday, February 5, 2012

Paul Lawrie back in world top 50 after second win in Qatar

PAUL Lawrie may have been a tad embarrassed to hear he’d been likened to Nick Faldo in his prime but the Aberdonian certainly produced a final-day performance the six-time major champion would have been proud of in winning the Qatar Masters for a second time yesterday.

“If you win that many majors, you are a legend – I don’t think I’m a legend,” commented Lawrie as he typically downplayed a display that had the Sky commentators, led by fellow Scot Ewen Murray, almost purring like never before.

One ahead at the start of play – that advantage would have been double but for the penalty Lawrie called on himself when he inadvertently dropped his ball on his marker in Saturday’s second round – the 43-year-old closed with a flawless seven-under-par 65 for a 15-under total and a four-shot success in an event reduced to 54 holes due to strong winds on Friday.

It lifted him back into the world’s top 50 – he leapt from 78th to 45th – for the first time since July 2003 and also secured spots in three of this season’s WGC events, starting with the Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona in just over two weeks’ time.

If Lawrie can stay in the top 50 until the beginning of April, he will be heading back to Augusta National for a first Masters appearance since 2004. And, if he can even come close to maintaining the sort of form that has now seen him record four top-10 finishes on the European Tour for the first time in his career, he will also be in with an excellent chance of bridging another 13-year gap – he also won in Qatar in 1999 before going on to be crowned as Open champion at Carnoustie a few months later – by earning a Ryder Cup return at Medinah in September.

Based on this effort, European captain Jose Maria Olazabal would surely love to have Lawrie on his team as it was a vintage performance from the Scot, who opened with a birdie but had been caught by the resurgent Sergio Garcia by the time he boarded the tee at the par-5 ninth. After two mighty blows, Lawrie chipped in there from just short of the green for an eagle and displayed his short-game prowess once again when he repeated the feat at the 17th, this time for a birdie-2.

In between, he produced a masterclass from tee to green to leave the chasing pack with a forlorn cause. Swinging the club in textbook fashion, he had decent chances at almost every hole on the back nine, converting the ones at the 11th, 14th and 16th to give himself a handy advantage before slamming the door shut with his fifth birdie of the round at the penultimate hole.

That gave him a four-shot cushion playing the last and, though Kyle Stanley had blown a similar lead seven days earlier on the PGA Tour, there was no danger of Lawrie doing likewise. He took the danger out by laying up with his approach at the par-5 and was so relaxed that he was whistling and talking to a cameraman as he walked up the fairway. “I don’t think I can play much better than that,” said Lawrie, whose closest challengers on 11-under were world No 10 Jason Day and Peter Hanson. “I’ve been playing well for a long, long time, but it’s nice to come out one ahead and shoot seven- under.

“I was hugely disappointed in Abu Dhabi as I played phenomenal there and finished eighth, which was a bit of a kick in the teeth. So to come here and keep playing how I was and knock a few putts in was very special.”

After keeping his calm all day, it was no surprise that Lawrie was close to tears when he was asked if he’d been dedicating the win – the seventh of his European Tour career – to Adam Hunter, his long-time coach and friend who died last October following a battle with leukaemia. “Yes” was all he managed in reply.

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