IT WAS the week the “Earth” moved for Paul Lawrie.
Heading into the European Tour’s big finale, the Dubai World Championship, last year, the Aberdonian was lying 163rd in the world rankings – he’d started 2011 down in 244th – and wasn’t even a blip on the Ryder Cup radar.
By the time the final putt had been holed in the glittering event on the Earth Course at Jumeirah Estates, however, the former Open champion found himself starting an incredible journey that led to him being reborn on the world stage.
In finishing second to big-hitting Spaniard Alvaro Quiros in the DP World-sponsored money-fest – the Scot led with seven holes to go before his main title rival signed off with a spectacular eagle at the 72nd hole – Lawrie catapulted 76 spots to 87th in the rankings.
The confidence boost from that saw him start the 2012 campaign in buoyant mood, following two top tens with a second Qatar Masters victory to break back into the top 50 for the first time since 2003.
Lawrie has returned to the Middle East this week ranked 27th, having cemented his position amomgst the world’s elite by winning the Johnnie Walker Championship in front of a frenzied home crowd at Gleneagles in August.
By then, the 43-year-old had secured his return to the Ryder Cup stage after a 13-year absence and, at Medinah, that journey reached giddy heights as Lawrie played his part in Europe matching the biggest last-day comeback in the event’s history to hold on to the most prized possession in team golf.
Reflecting on a memorable 12 months on the eve of an event that has been re-branded as the Tour Championship, he said: “I think this year was mainly down to how I played here last year. You get huge confidence when you get a chance to win a tournament of this quality, involving the top 60 players on our Tour.
“I was ahead for a bit on the back nine in the final round then Alvaro had a good finish and, after making an eagle at the last, he deserved to win. But I came pretty close and when things like that happen you tend to kick on. I had a couple of weeks off over the Christmas period then came out and had two top 10s and a win, which I think was all down to doing well in this event last year.”
Lawrie said his game, particularly his driving, has “definitely improved” over the past 12 months and, having established himself amongst the game’s elite again, he is determined to stay in the limelight it brings for as long as possible.
“I’ve been in the top 50 for most of the year and that’s where you want to be,” he added. “The difference between being 50th and 51st is massive. You need to be in the top 50 to get into all the top events and I’ve been there since I won in Qatar. I plan to stay there for a while as I’ve got more desire than ever to stay there. I’m enjoying it too much to give it up.”
While this week’s event marks the end of the European Tour season (discounting the Qualifying School starting in Girona on Saturday), it’s not the finish of Lawrie’s campaign. He’s off to South Africa next week for another big-money bash, the Nedbank Challenge, before wrappings things up with a second European team appearance this year under Jose Maria Olazabal, this time in the Royal Trophy against Asia, in Brunei.
Reflecting on a story that may not be rags to riches but is still one of the golf world’s top tales this year, Lawrie said: “I’ve got more good days than bad days at the moment whereas before I had more bad days. It’s good and you’ve just got to try and keep it going. If you turn up with a decent attitude and putt good, then you believe you can win in any given week.”
Winning this week would land Lawrie a bumper £838,000 pay-day. It would take his season’s earnings to just under £2.3 million, which, before the event tees off, would see him move from tenth into second on the money-list. The money title was wrapped up by world No 1 Rory McIlroy a fortnight ago, creating a sense of anti-climax this week, but Lawrie, for one, is against the format being tweaked in order to ensure the Race to Dubai doesn’t end a lap or two early.
“I think the way they have the format just now is fantastic,” he said. “It rewards the best player over the year – that’s what the order of merit is. If you go messing with that or changing that to make sure it comes down to the last event, you could have someone winning it who hasn’t been the best player and that doesn’t make sense.”
Lawrie spearheads a six-strong Scottish contingent in the desert, the figure being the same for the home of golf’s total representation in the event in its first three years. David Drysdale, the sole Saltire standard bearer when it was inaugurated in 2009, is back again, as are Richie Ramsay, Stephen Gallacher and Scott Jamieson, while Marc Warren is making his debut in the £5m event.