HE MAY have been simmering inside after capping a “horrific” putting display by missing a short one to save par at the last, but one look at the leaderboard in the Paul Lawrie Invitational heading into the final round at Deeside helped put a smile back on the tournament host’s face.
“These are exactly the lads we want to see up there,” said the 1999 Open champion, not only looking at his protege, David Law, holding a four-shot lead after splendid rounds of 66 and 64, but seeing the chase being led by Paul Shields and Paul O’Hara also still in with a shout.
When Lawrie came up with the idea to host this event, it wasn’t to give himself the chance to return to the Tartan Tour, his old stomping ground, and lord it over the home-based Scottish professionals. He’s way too classy for that and, although the European Tour has been his main place of work for more than 20 years now, he’s still just one of the lads when it comes to returning to his roots.
Lawrie’s aim was to give young professionals, the likes of Law, Shields and O’Hara, an opportunity to test themselves against more experienced players in events longer than a sprint over 18 holes in a pro-am.
“These guys need tournaments like this as opposed to pro-ams,” added the 44-year-old.
“When I started out on the Tartan Tour, we had eight or nine 72-hole events and now there are only two [the Gleneagles Scottish PGA Championship and the Northern Open].
“I’m lucky that we’ve got people that support this event. We’ve got five sponsors who put in money every year and the prize fund has gone up another £5,000 to £35,000 this time. We’ve got another new sponsor coming on board next year and, hopefully, it will go up again. We also hope it will be at Deeside again as it’s an ideal venue and we like it here.”
Another splendid venue in this neck of the woods is the Paul Lawrie Golf Centre, which sits just ten minutes’ away on the south side of the River Dee and is where Law, a 22-year-old Aberdonian, has sharpened up the short-game skills that have enabled him to negotiate the opening 36 holes by dropping just one shot.
“It’s an awesome facility, where you can hit pretty much every shot, and I spend most of my time there when I’m at home,” said the leader after moving to ten-under for the tournament with a second-round effort that included three birdies in the first four holes as well as one from around 25 feet across the green at the last.
Having won twice already in the paid ranks – on the Pro Golf Tour – Law has both the game and confidence to finish off another job today, although he knows from experience that Shields is a stuffy individual. When the pair met in the final of the Scottish Boys’ final at Royal Aberdeen four years ago, it went all the way to the wire over 36 holes before Law prevailed. They’ve become close friends since then and Shields is a guest at the Law family home this week.
“Paul went round to the shop to buy me an ice-cream last night, but I don’t think I’ll be getting anything tonight,” joked the leader as he looked forward to the pair going head-to-head for the first time since that title tussle on the other side of the Granite City.
Shields, also 22, is a refreshing individual in a sport that can sometimes be too serious. “Because I was standing so far above the ball, I had to swing at it like an orangutan,” said the Kirkhill man of a 3-wood from the side of a mound at the 13th that set up a birdie at the 13th in his 66.
“And I just about had the shirt off in celebration,” he added of a 6-iron tee shot that almost went in at the next.
O’Hara, bidding to follow up his recent Scottish Young Pros Championship win, birdied three of his last five holes for a second 68 to sit joint-third on four-under alongside 2011 Tartan Tour No 1 Stephen Gray (67).
Lawrie is eight back after another torturous day on the greens in his 69, two fewer than Andrew Coltart as he scraped into the final round. “I’ve just found out that I’ve got a club in my bag that is older than [playing partner] Conor Syme,” he chuckled.
Syme, last year’s Scottish Schools’ champion, also made the cut, as did two fellow amateurs, Bradley Neil and Lawrie’s eldest son, Craig. It’s back to the day job for Dave Kenny, though. “I think I’ll stick to caddying,” declared the host’s trusty bagman after an 81.