John Huggan: Paul Lawrie’s remarkable renaissance continues, but other Scots have a fair way to go

Colin Montgomerie plays out of the Road Hole bunker. Picture: Robert Perry
Colin Montgomerie plays out of the Road Hole bunker. Picture: Robert Perry
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Given that the new season began again ten days ago in South Africa, it is high time we took the opportunity to reflect on the 2012 European Tour season just ended. From a Scottish point of view, it is an exercise worth pursuing.

In what was a pretty good year all round, many – but not all – of our representatives on the ever-more far-flung “international schedule” made significant progress in what is an increasingly competitive environment. Here’s how they all got on.

Paul Lawrie: 10th place in the Race to Dubai, ¤1,910,381

Grade: A

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the former Open champion’s two-win season is the fact that he achieved as much as he did without ranking inside the top 30 in any of the important statistical categories. Indeed, while Lawrie improved in all of those over the last 12 months, he still found himself outside the top 100 in “putts per round”. Which is surely a measure of his ball-striking ability and general, all-round consistency tee-to-green. Besides, modern-day professional golf is all about hitting home runs and the 43-year-old Aberdonian did that twice – thrice if you count his much-underrated contribution to Europe’s memorable Ryder Cup victory. About all of which he even found time to write a book.

Richie Ramsay: 26th, ¤1,009,417

Grade: A-

There’s an old saying in professional golf that most players earn “90 per cent of their income in ten per cent of their tournaments”. And Ramsay wasn’t far away from that in 2012, winning three-quarters of his prize money in only three of his 25 appearances. So Ramsay’s best golf is obviously more than competitive, as he showed only too vividly when winning so impressively at the European Masters in Switzerland. But, on the downside, he spent large parts of this season mired in mediocrity, as a record showing nine missed cuts and four finishes outside the top 50 illustrates only too clearly. It is in the improvement of his average golf that he needs to spend time in 2013.

Stephen Gallacher: 35th, ¤844,843

Grade: B-

Nothing much changes in the world of this enormously likeable individual. Every year he is one of the best on the European Tour when it comes to hitting the golf ball, every year he is one of the worst when it comes to using what is still for most people the shortest club in the bag, the putter. In 2012, Gallacher ranked tenth in “greens in regulation”, but was a lowly 181st in “putts per round”. Until that last number changes for the better it is hard to imagine the enormous potential he still possesses at the age of 38 will ever be completely fulfilled. Giving away two and a half shots per round to Luke Donald on the greens – and one to Rory McIlroy – is just too much.

Scott Jamieson: 53rd, ¤564,587

Grade: B

In both of the two years he has now competed on the European Tour, Jamieson’s performances have followed a similar pattern. The number of missed cuts (15 and 13) far outweighs the top-ten finishes (five and four). Still, it would be churlish indeed to be too critical of a young man in the early stages of what is clearly a highly promising career, one that has already produced a maiden European Tour win in the new “2013” season. But his lack of consistency remains a problem and must be addressed if he is to progress further up the professional ladder.

Marc Warren: 55th, ¤552,905

Grade: B

This was a bit more like it from the 31-year-old former Walker Cup player. A year ago, Warren was scrambling around trying to regain the tour card he had lost at the end of 2010. This year he was back where his beautifully-balanced swing – now under the stern gaze of coach Pete Cowen – belongs. Still, he has a bit to go yet. Only three top-ten finishes and eight missed cuts in a season low-lighted by a Scottish Open he should have won but didn’t points to the fact that Warren remains a work in progress. Was nice to see him qualify for – and play four rounds in – the US Open, though.

David Drysdale: 58th, ¤496,672

Grade: B

There were only three top-ten finishes in his 27 starts but, for Drysdale, this was a most consistent season. Only six times did he have the weekend off and only twice more did he place outside the top 50. So there was a lot of pretty good golf played in a season that saw the 37-year-old Borderer rebound nicely from a relatively poor 2011. The key in 2013 will be going from “pretty good” to “really good” a bit more often. And, judging by the numbers (159th in putts per round), the best way to do that would be through more practice on the greens.

Martin Laird: 67th, ¤405,423

Grade: incomplete

Having played only ten European Tour events – three short of the required 13 – it is unfair to properly rate the US-based Glaswegian. Suffice to say, his 2012 was a disappointment on three counts – in Europe, on the PGA Tour and in terms of the world rankings, where he has dropped out of the all-important elite top 50.

Peter Whiteford: 110th, ¤203,365

Grade: C-

Nine months on from his unfortunate disqualification at an Avantha Masters he looked like he might win, Whiteford will surely be relieved to have retained his exempt status into 2013. But, overall, this year was a step back for the likeable Fifer. Down almost 50 places on the money list and only one top-ten finish are numbers that point to a man struggling with his game. Still, with the pressure of keeping his card behind him, it would be no surprise to see Whiteford bounce back to something like his 2011 form next year.

Craig Lee: 115th, ¤193,334

Grade: C+

Making it into the all-important top 115 on the money list straight off the Challenge Tour is no mean feat. So Lee is to be commended for doing so, especially on the back of only one top-ten finish, at the Irish Open. As you’d expect, his statistics weren’t hugely impressive either, but they were pretty good for a man finding his way in the big league. Let’s hope Lee takes advantage of his hard-won ability to plan his schedule with a bit more certainty and kicks on in 2013.

Alastair Forsyth: 133rd, ¤143,109

Grade: D

Having failed to win his way through the 108-hole ordeal that is the qualifying school, Forsyth was yet another victim of a European Tour system that is simply unfair. Consigned to play only sporadically and then mostly in the lower-paying events, Forsyth actually did quite well to get as close as he did to regaining his card. Only five times in 17 starts did he miss the cut, but only twice did he record a top-ten finish. For this likeable soul, the struggle continues.

Colin Montgomerie: 134th, ¤136,355

Grade: F

Twenty-one starts. Eleven missed cuts. One top-ten. For goodness sake man, give it up and start playing with men your own age.

George Murray: 155th, ¤97,303

Grade: E

For Murray, 2012 was first disappointing, then painful. One year on from spectacularly gaining his card with a second-place finish in the 2011 Dunhill Links Championship, the 29-year-old Fifer never really looked like keeping those hard-earned playing privileges. Nineteen missed cuts from 28 appearances clearly indicate many weeks of struggle, before a double-bogey on the 108th hole of the qualifying school meant he missed out on his 2013 card by one agonising shot. Ouch.

Gary Orr: 159th, ¤93,350

Grade: E

Having gone to the trouble of winning the eighth card at the 2011 Qualifying School, 2012 was a harrowing year for the popular 45-year-old Helensburgh native. Hampered by injury – and his relatively lowly status – Orr managed only 16 starts, although the year ended on a happier note when he won back his card – albeit just – at the recent Q-school. He is, incidentally, the oldest player ever to perform that feat.

Steven O’Hara: 185th, ¤57,184

Grade: F

Like Orr, O’Hara won his card back at the 2011 school. But, again, like Orr, he failed to take advantage. A beautiful striker of the ball, the former Scottish Amateur champion and Walker Cup player was ranked 234th in “putts per round” this year. Need we say more?