IT’S numero uno for Paul Lawrie. Of course he’d love to taste major glory again or add to his European Tour title haul. But playing in a Ryder Cup on home soil rather than any of those two targets is driving the former Open champion in his bid to stop a slide down the world rankings.
One of the heroes in last year’s “Miracle at Medinah”, Lawrie’s immediate aim is to use this week’s Turkish Airlines Open to secure his place in the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. Lying 64th in the race to the Gulf, he needs to climb into the top 60, so has to secure a decent chunk of the $7 million (£4.5m) up for grabs in an event headlined by world No 1 Tiger Woods at the Montgomerie Maxx Royal in Belek.
Lawrie’s long-term goal, however, is to be lining up for Europe again in the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles next September, and the 44-year-old is using that as his main motivation to arrest a slump that has seen him drop from 29th in the world at the end of last year to 83rd in the current standings.
“The Ryder Cup is so big now – it takes over everyone’s thinking,” admitted Lawrie of an event set to be hosted in Scotland for the first time since the 1973 encounter at Muirfield.
“Playing on that team at Gleneagles is the only thing I want to do. It’s not as though I don’t want to win more tournaments like The Open or the Johnnie Walker Championship – of course I do. But to make that team next year is the No 1 priority for me – absolutely. Any player will tell you the same thing. Anyone who tells you different would be lying. Everyone wants to hear about the Ryder Cup, whether it’s players, fans or the media.”
Lawrie, who produced the best last-day figures to beat Brandt Snedeker in the singles, bridged a 13-year gap to make the team in Chicago, having made his only appearance prior to that at Brookline in 1999, the year of his Claret Jug success at Carnoustie.
“When I was commentating on the 2010 match at Celtic Manor, I remember being out in the buggy a couple of times and thinking, ‘man this is much bigger than Brookline’,” he added. “It had grown arms and legs in that time and it made me want to be part of that again. I think Graeme McDowell felt the same the time he missed out – it became his No 1 goal.
“Another reason I am determined to make the team at Gleneagles is that I also think Paul McGinley is going to be a really good captain. It would be awesome to be on his team. I’ve had two or three chats with him and the detail that he’s gone into is unbelievable – he’s going to be phenomenal.”
A two-times winner last year, Lawrie has only recorded one top-10 finish this season and that came in his first event, the Volvo Champions in South Africa. It was the Tour Championship in Dubai, though, that sparked his Ryder Cup return – he finished runner-up to Alvaro Quiros two years ago – and he’s hoping a strong finish to the current campaign can do likewise.
“I’m looking forward to Turkey, where I need a good finish. Top ten maybe, but it’s hard to work it out,” he said. “It’s been a frustrating season. My stats show that I have hit less fairways and less greens and taken more putts than last year. Everything is just a little worse and that combination is not one you want.
“I’ve earned less points than anyone else in the top 100 in the world rankings this year. So you are where you are. I can fully understand that when you earn no points you are going to fall down the rankings. It’s been a poor year but if I can play well in Turkey to get into Dubai I can turn it round by having two good weeks. Two years ago going into the Dubai event, I was pretty much nowhere on the Ryder Cup list but did well there and that kicked me on.
“People say I had an unbelievable year to get into the Ryder Cup but I had a pretty poor summer in 2012 yet still made the team. It’s not impossible for me to make the team, but I’m going to have to get going and get back into that top 50.”
Having tied for 34th in the BMW Masters before missing out on last week’s WGC event, the HSBC Champions, Lawrie has considerable ground to make up on Spaniard Gonzalo Fernandez Castano, who leads the European points list for the Ryder Cup.
But, while Jose Maria Olazabal, the winning captain at Medinah, has cast doubt on the huge money and points on offer in the European Tour’s new Final Series, the Aberdonian is confident it will not result in McGinley being left with any passengers in his team next year.
“Gonzo won in China and Francesco [Molinari] was second. If they have another top five in the Final Series then that’s a million quid, which is a hell of a start. Even already Gonzo might struggle not to be on the team.
“It’s always been the case, though, that players winning or doing well in big events are going to have a better chance of making the team. Remember Pierre Fulke reaching the final of the WGC Match Play in 2001 then playing pretty average for the rest of the year but (he) still made the team?
“It’s just that these four events are all together. A good run in them means you are ahead of the game but a bad run is costing you ground.”