Paul Lawrie excels as Scots turn on the style at Gleneagles
“SCOTLAND prepares...” was the slogan chosen to herald the countdown to the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles. “Scotland delivers...” would have been more appropriate on the hoardings around the PGA Centenary Course for the latest staging of the Johnnie Walker Championship.
Following a majestic last-day performance in Perthshire, Paul Lawrie delivered the title, giving himself the perfect boost as he prepares to make a Ryder Cup return after a 13-year absence at Medinah in little over a month’s time. A closing 68, which was almost as impressive as Rory McIlroy’s final-round effort in cruising to USPGA Championship glory a fortnight earlier, secured a four-shot triumph with a 16-under-par total of 272.
Lawrie led the way as a Tartan Army also delivered one of the strongest-ever performances by Scottish golfers in the history of the European Tour. At one point in the afternoon, the top three positions on the leaderboard all had Saltires alongside the names of Lawrie, Stephen Gallacher and Richie Ramsay. It didn’t end that way, but it was still some effort from the home contingent.
Ramsay (68) and Gallacher (71) both finished in a tie for sixth, the duo being joined on the ten-under mark by Colin Montgomerie (69) as the tournament host produced his best performance since he was seventh in the PGA Championship at Wentworth 16 months ago. With Peter Whiteford (67) tying for tenth and Craig Lee (67) in 14th, it was one of those special days for the Scots.
On top of all that, it was a day when Gleneagles itself delivered and the fans, too. Rarely has this event passed in years gone by without some hint of criticism being aimed at the course. In fairness to bosses at the plush Perthshire resort, they’ve stumped up the cash to make improvements and it has proved money well spent.
Significant changes made to the ninth and 18th holes have made both considerably better, the latter, for instance, now being a hole that could generate some excitement if matches do go the distance in that Ryder Cup in just over two years’ time.
As for those crowds, boy did they deliver on the last day. This event has always seemed to play second fiddle to the Scottish Open but not on this occasion. Such a strong Scottish presence on the leaderboard obviously had something to do with it. So too, probably, did the feelgood factor about sport following the Olympics.
The massive crowds were also a sign, though, that the Scottish sporting public’s appetite for the 2014 Ryder Cup has been well and truly whetted. What role Lawrie will have then remains to be seen. He’s been touted as a potential captain but, if he keeps performing as he is at the moment, a playing appearance on home soil is a clear possibility.
One stroke clear at the start of the day, the Aberdonian was never really threatened from the moment he found the heart of the green with his approach at the long second and bagged the first of five birdies. With their compatriot in such imperious form, Gallacher and Ramsay were always fighting for second at best.
After 11 holes, Lawrie was five shots clear. Even after dropping his only shot of the day at the 15th, he still had plenty of breathing space and the door was quickly slammed shut as he bagged a birdie at the next hole.
In the end, Australian Brett Rumford finished in the bridesmaid’s spot, as he did when Edoardo Molinari claimed the title two years ago. Helped by two birdies in the final four holes, he signed off with a 68 to pip fast-finishing Swede Fredrik Andersson Hed (65), Dutchman Maarten Lafeber (69) and Frenchman Romain Wattel (72) by a single shot.
While overshadowed by Lawrie’s performance, Gallacher, Ramsay and Montgomerie also had good cause to feel content with their week’s work on home turf. For Gallacher, it was a fifth top-ten finish in this event, the Bathgate man getting himself in the mix again despite another slow start as he opened with a 75 for the second year running.
“That was the best I played all week by miles, but Paul was always going to be hard to beat and I was stopped in my tracks when I three-putted the eighth,” said Gallacher, who is targeting a top-30 finish in the Race to Dubai this season as that would earn him a spot in next year’s Open at Muirfield.
Ramsay’s final-day salvo contained seven birdies. It helped put a smile back on his face after being in despair following his last outing, a missed cut in the Open Championship. “I’m pleased with that and I feel very good about my game again,” admitted the Aberdonian.
Montgomerie felt exactly the same after the eight-time European No 1 produced two of his best back-to-back rounds for some time. He birdied the 14th, 15th and 16th and reckoned he could have done likewise at the 17th and 18th. “I don’t know how my putts missed at those holes,” he said. “But, after losing heart in terms of winning again, this performance has proved I can win again.”
Whiteford and Lee both boosted their hopes of retaining spots at the top table for next season by finishing on nine-under and eight-under respectively. Whiteford, who came into the event lying 113th in the Race to Dubai, also gave a good account of himself in the Scottish Open, finishing eighth at Castle Stuart.
“This week has been the best I’ve driven it this season,” said the Fifer, pointing to a return to an old driver a few weeks back having paid dividends, as has some work he’s been putting in with his coach, Donald McKay, on his swing. “Instead of going into tournaments with apprehension, I’m looking forward to them again,” he added.
Lee, who started the event lying two places below his compatriot, was also pleased with his week’s work. Unlike Whiteford, however, the Stirling player could soon find himself running out of tournaments in his bid to finish in the all-important top 115 due to his ranking from last season’s Challenge Tour. As things stand, he is only likely to get into the KLM Open, the Italian Open, the Perth International and the SA Open between now and the end of the year.
“It’s been a tough season,” said Lee of his stop-start campaign, which has partly been caused by the Tour losing five tournaments. “But every time I’ve been up there in an event I’ve managed to pull it off and my game is in good shape.”
All in all, this was one of Scottish golf’s most rewarding days for some time.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 8 C to 12 C
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Temperature: 9 C to 17 C
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