Jose Maria Olazabal welcomes rebirth of Paul Lawrie
MISSING the cut in the Johnnie Walker Championship brought one consolation for Jose Maria Olazabal. It allowed the Spaniard to sit back and savour the masterclass produced by Paul Lawrie in Perthshire on Sunday as the Aberdonian celebrated clinching his Ryder Cup return in style.
“The performance was very impressive,” said the European captain when asked to provide his assessment of Lawrie winning by four shots on home soil with a 16-under-par total on a PGA Centenary Course that is by no means a pushover and, on this occasion, was playing every inch of its full yardage due to soft underfoot conditions.
“It’s not very often that you see a player leading the field on a Sunday play that well. If I’m not mistaken, he only missed one green – at the par-3 6th. He played extraordinarily well.”
The win, which has lifted Lawrie up to 30th in the world rankings, came days after the 43-year-old sealed an automatic spot in the European team for the match at Medinah in just over a month’s time.
Along with many others, Olazabal is full of admiration that the Scot has secured a return to the Ryder Cup stage for the first time since making his one and only appearance in the biennial event at Brookline in 1999.
The Spaniard admitted he’s even more impressed that Lawrie has achieved the feat after making a bold decision to skip this year’s US Open because he feared a long trip to San Francisco for the second major of the season would have been detrimental to his hopes of making the European team.
“The timing of Paul’s win is fantastic, especially for him in the sense that he showed a commitment to making the Ryder Cup team,” added Olazbal. “He did not go to the US Open because he wanted to give himself a better chance of performing in the following tournaments and be part of the team.
“I think that was in the back of his mind during the whole of the summer and I think that didn’t allow him to perform as well as he had been earlier in the year. But, as soon he realised he was going to be in the team, we saw the capabilities he has to play golf with the performance he produced on Sunday.”
It earned Lawrie an eighth title triumph of his European Tour career and second of the season, having used a second-place finish in the Dubai World Championship last December as a springboard to regaining the Qatar Masters title a couple of months later.
“Paul had a wonderful end to last season and that’s why he committed himself to trying to make the team,” observed the European captain, who was one of Lawrie’s team-mates at Brookline, where the rookie hit the opening shot of the match and went on to pick up three-and-a-half points from five.
“He played in ’99 and we all know how tough that was,” added Olazabal of the rowdy atmosphere at that match which spilled over when some of the American players ran on to the green in his singles joust with Justin Leonard after the former Open champion had holed a monster putt.
“To have another chance is huge for anybody, especially Paul. After winning The Open (in 1999), for whatever reason, he went through a slump with his game and not having that much fun but all that has changed. I don’t know the reason for that, either, but I am sure it has something to do with the fact he wanted another chance of playing in the Ryder Cup. It is going to be huge for him. He brings a lot of character to the team. He’s a cool customer. He shows a lot of heart. He’s a very clever guy, quick and very sharp. He can deliver a pretty good line at the right time.”
It remains to be seen who Olazabal will ask to hit the opening shot this time around. Rory McIlroy, for one, will be a strong contender and there’s a strong possibility he’ll be sent out in the opening foursomes joust on the first day with Graeme McDowell. But, having handled the pressure as a rookie, even though he admits every bone in his body was shaking, a longer-in-the-tooth Lawrie, who looks a good-fit for either Lee Westwood or rookie Nicolas Colsaerts in the foursomes, will also probably come into the frame when that decision is made.
“In that situation it is not a nice experience,” said Olazbal of Lawrie being handed the job of leading the visiting team off in Boston 13 years ago. “It is a tough one. You are obviously very nervous, but Paul has that coolness and that attitude to cope with it. He’s not afraid of hitting shots under pressure. So, in that regard, he was well prepared for the opening shot at Brookline.”
Olazabal is confident that Martin Kaymer, another automatic selection, will be ready when the gun goes off at Medinah, believing the unique nature of a Ryder Cup will augment the hard work the German is putting in at home in a bid to rediscover his form. He is also delighted that a recent pep talk resulted in fellow Spaniard Sergio Garcia shaking off the bad attitude that had threatened his place in the team until he won the Wyndham Championsip in North Carolina a week ago. “That was all I talked about with Sergio,” said Olazabal. “There was nothing wrong with his game. When someone is passionate on a golf course, though, you can be your own worst enemy.”
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Tuesday 18 June 2013
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