PAUL Lawrie is hoping to end a frustrating start to his year when he sets out today at what is a happy hunting ground for him in the Middle East.
The Aberdonian has won the Qatar Masters twice – his 1999 success in Doha providing the springboard for him to become Open champion at Carnoustie later that year.
He also won the Qatar title 12 months ago and sets out today in the star group for the first two rounds along with Open champion Ernie Els and Ryder Cup team-mate Sergio Garcia, as he bids to complete a hat-trick of triumphs.
With Justin Rose, the world No 4, and fifth-ranked Louis Oosthuizen also in the field, Lawrie has his work cut out to repeat his impressive four-shot success of a year ago, when the event was reduced to 54 holes due to bad weather.
However, Lawrie feels at home in Doha and reckons he’s due to start holing some putts again after enjoying little success on the greens in either the Volvo Golf Champions in Durban a fortnight ago or last week’s HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship.
“My frustration has been huge so far this year,” the 44-year-old told The Scotsman. “In South Africa I couldn’t have played any better yet couldn’t have putted any worse. I finished seventh but was the worst putter in the field all week. Then, in Abu Dhabi, I played okay at times but couldn’t get it in the hole. It is so frustrating when you should be doing better but you’re not.You’ve got to try to behave yourself, which is quite difficult for me sometimes.”
Playing in the more relaxed atmosphere of a company day for Saltire Energy, one of his sponsors, at Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi on Monday helped Lawrie get some of the frustration out of his system before heading for Doha, where his success rate on the greens has always been better than Abu Dhabi.
“I played lovely on the front nine in my final round on Sunday but missed everything. I should have been three or four-under but was level,” he added. “It was the same story all week – some good stuff, some bad stuff but a lot of really poor play.
“I’ve always played well in Abu Dhabi but I’ve never putted well – I’ve always struggled with the greens. The greens are quite similar [to Doha] but I struggled to get the lines last week. I also struggled with the pace, which is not like me.
“I’ve had a couple of really good putting weeks in Doha over the years, though, and hopefully I can enjoy another one this week. My company day on Monday meant the pro-am was my practice round this year but I know the course well enough so that won’t be a problem.”
Lawrie, who has three weeks off after this event before heading to Arizona for the WGC Accenture Match Play, spearheads an 11-strong Scottish line-up, with Richie Ramsay admitting he has been inspired by seeing Tiger Woods working out at close-quarters in the UAE capital last week. “I was in the gym on Friday morning and he was in,” said the Aberdonian. “It’s a great motivator. You see him working out and you think, Jesus, I’m on the right path here.”
Advice from Paul McGinley, the new European Ryder Cup captain, is also helping Ramsay as he bids to tick off a list that has a place in the opening WGC field of the season as a first target then a Masters invitation, which will be forthcoming if he can climb from 53rd into the world’s top 50 by the end of March.
“I’ve got to build my schedule a bit more carefully this year,” he said. “I spoke to Paul McGinley at the BMW Masters in China at the end of last year about it at length. We’ve got a similar type of game, and there are courses like Lake Malaren in China which doesn’t suit me as well. I know Paul has the Ryder Cup captaincy now, but he is somebody I can identify with and he said that, anytime I wanted to chat, I should just give him a shout.”