PAUL Lawrie has secured his spot in next year’s US Masters but Richie Ramsay and Martin Laird still have work to do if they are also going to be at Augusta for what will be the 25th anniversary of Sandy Lyle winning his Green Jacket.
The first batch of invitations for the opening major of the year are based on the world’s top 50 at the end of the previous season and Lawrie has safely secured one by finishing 2012 in 29th spot – a rise of 54 places from 12 months ago.
The Aberdonian is amongst 19 Europeans in the leading 50 while the improved state of Scottish golf on the world stage is reflected by the fact there are now four others either inside the top 100 or very close to it heading into 2013.
Helped by his win in the European Masters, Richie Ramsay has climbed 46 spots to finish the year in 57th, leapfrogging Laird, who started the 2012 campaign as the Scottish No 1 in 47th but has slipped 24 places to 71st.
One of the first targets for both of them next year will be to climb into the top 50 by the time the next round of invitations are being sent out by Masters chairman Billy Payne and his committee.
Stephen Gallacher, 142nd a year ago, is now up to 98th and will be determined to improve on that when he makes his return from a recent knee operation in the HSBC Abu Dhabi Golf Championship next month.
Further improvement will also be the aim for Scott Jamieson, who has climbed from 181st – 23 spots above where he finished last year – before the Tour Championship in Dubai at the end of November to 101st on the back of three top-15 finishes, including a win in South Africa.
Marc Warren, 182nd from 367th, and David Drysdale, 217th from 355th, have also made progress over the past 12 months, but a miserable season for Colin Montgomerie has seen the former world No 2 and eight-time European No 1 drop to 526th, more than 100 spots lower than he was two years ago.
In contrast, Rory McIlroy will end a splendid year flying high at the top of the rankings, the Northern Irishman having jumped above both Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, first and second respectively at the end of 2011. Donald has dropped a spot and Westwood is down to seventh, but McIlroy will head into the new season expecting a challenge from Tiger Woods, the long-time world No 1 having climbed 20 spots from a year ago to sit in third spot.
Justin Rose, now fourth from 18th, former Open champion Louis Oosthuizen, up from 40th to sixth, and Masters winner Bubba Watson, who has climbed 13 spots to eighth, were other big movers in 2012. But Phil Mickelson has dropped another three places to 17th while, less than 18 months after winning the Open Championship, Darren Clarke has tumbled to 145, nearly 100 spots lower than he was this time last year.
In addition to Lawrie, Jamie Donaldson, Nicolas Colsaerts, Francesco Molinari, Matteo Manassero, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Thomas Bjorn have also now qualified for Augusta through the top 50. So, too, has Dane Thorbjorn Olesen, who held on to 50th spot by 0.01 ranking points from Australian Geoff Ogilvy to earn a Masters debut next April.
Meanwhile, Lawrie has already mapped out the opening few weeks of his 2013 season by confirming that he’ll be bidding to win the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters at the end of next month. The former Open champion, who shares the record of two victories at the moment with Adam Scott, will head to Doha from Abu Dhabi, having already started his campaign the week before that in the Volvo Golf Champions event in South Africa.
“It’s a tournament I enjoy, where I’ve not only won twice but had a lot of good finishes,” said Lawrie, who will be returning to Qatar as the defending champion after repeating his 1999 triumph earlier this year.
“It’ll be my third event of 2013 so I should be game sharp, more than I would be if it was my first event. I know the course well, as we’ve played there many times.
“I look forward to going back, but there are very few people who go to tournaments and successfully defend. Obviously you go there with good feelings, but sometimes that holds you back a wee bit, makes it harder to win again.”
Lawrie closed with a 65 in February to win an event reduced to 54 holes due to strong winds with a 54-hole total of 15-under-par 201, finishing four shots clear of a field that also included Westwood, Sergio Garcia and Martin Kaymer.
“I like playing in Doha,” added the 43-year-old. “It’s ‘linksy’, it’s windy, you’ve got to knock the ball down, you’ve got to think a wee bit more. It’s not just stand up and give it a ‘batter’.
“I enjoy it that way. You’ve got to play the ball, shape the ball a wee bit, which is unusual these days. You don’t have to do that very often, but Qatar’s got that.
“It’s always breezy, but even though it’s windy, the scoring is always good because there are chances and the greens are firm, which we like. But you’ve got to keep the ball down.”