Paul Lawrie among golden oldies in title hunt

Stephen Gallacher jumped 29 spots to joint-eight on the back of a 64. Picture: Getty
Stephen Gallacher jumped 29 spots to joint-eight on the back of a 64. Picture: Getty
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Who says golf is a young man’s game? Three of the players in contention in the Portugal Masters heading into the final round today are well into their 40s, the oldest of the trio being Paul Lawrie.

In an all too rare occurrence, the 47-year-old Aberdonian has had a hot putter in his hands this week. He’s being rolling them in from all over the place at Clube de Golfe, including a long one at the last for a closing birdie in his third round.

It saw Lawrie sign for a six-under-par 65, having opened with a brace of 66s. On 16-under, he’s lying joint-fourth, two shots behind Dane Anders Hansen and Finn Mikko Korhonen, with three-time major winner Padraig Harrington sandwiched in between.

Bidding for his ninth European Tour triumph, Lawrie is in the mix for the first time since the Qatar Masters back in January. He led with a circuit to go on that occasion only to close with a disappointing 78. That hurt. This time he’ll be aiming to stay in the hunt right to the finish.

One-under through 11 holes, nothing much had happened in his round. An eagle-3 at the 12th was the spark he’d been looking for. It was followed by back-to-back birdies before finishing with a nice 3.

“It was a bit of struggle on the front nine but a lovely back nine,” admitted Lawrie, who reluctantly sat out the Dunhill Links a fortnight ago after being ill when he was one of Darren Clarke’s vice-captains at the Ryder Cup the previous week but used that time off to work on getting a better posture over the ball.

That has paid dividends. It’s on the greens, though, where Lawrie has enjoyed a welcome change in fortune so far this week. “I putted nice again, as I have all week,” he added.

Lawrie’s not alone in trying to land a Scottish success in the final regular event of the European Tour season. Marc Warren may have relinquished the lead, but he’s still in contention. The 35-year-old had his momentum halted by three straight bogeys around the turn, but is just three off the pace.

Don’t rule out Stephen Gallacher, either. The 41-year-old jumped 29 spots to joint-eight on the back of a 64. It’s been a tough year for the Bathgate man due to a hand injury. It’s forced him to change his swing completely. Slowly but surely, though, his best golf is starting to return.

After his 61 on Friday, Richie Ramsay had to settle for a 69 that dropped him six shots back. David Drysdale shot the same score to sit on 10-under, one ahead of Scott Jamieson (71). He’ll be looking for something better today to ensure he finishes inside the 110th in the Race to Dubai. The projected standings had him sitting 108th.

In this same event 12 months ago, Hansen announced his retirement. The 46-year-old has only played in four previous events this season and this one is merely to fulfil a requirement for taking up spots through being in the top 40 of the European Tour’s career money-list. He surprised himself by carding a 62 to share top spot with Korhonen as he signed for a 64.

“It’s nice to know that I can still do it, even though I’m not playing too much golf anymore,” admitted Hansen, a three-time Tour winner, most recently in the 2009 Joburg Open. “But I’m not going to come back and play full-time. I’m very happy where I am. That decision has been made, so I’m just enjoying playing and being out here.”

Few people enjoy playing golf more than Harrington. His last victory in a regular European Tour event was the Irish Open nine years ago. The 45-year-old has the bit between his teeth this week, though. He topped the leaderboard after getting to 18-under with his fifth birdie of the round in 10 holes. The Irishman reckoned he’d squandered a chance to knock a few players out the title race by then being one-over for the remaining eight. He’s still lurking ominously, though,

“I’m happy with that,” he admitted. “If I’d pushed on and picked up a couple more, it would have taken a lot of people out of contention tomorrow. Now there’s plenty of guys now who feel they can shoot a low one out there and have a chance of winning. So I’ve got to play well tomorrow and there’s a lot of work to be done.”

Elsewhere, Russell Knox headed into today’s final round of the PGA Tour’s CIMB Classic in Malaysia lying joint-second. Bidding for his third victory in 2016, the Scot carded a four-under 68 in Kuala Lumpur for a 15-under-par total. It left him alongside defending champion Justin Thomas (71), the pair having four shots to make up on Anirban Lahiri after the Indian player took over from Thomas at the head of affairs following a 65.

One Scot already celebrating is Michele Thomson. The former Curtis Cup player has secured a place on the Ladies European Tour next season after finishing fourth on its development circuit’s Order of Merit. Attached to Meldrum House, she has earned the step up at the age of 28.