Desert ‘shock’ will drive Paul Lawrie in bid to win back card

Paul Lawrie was the last man in to this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. Picture: Getty Images
Paul Lawrie was the last man in to this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. Picture: Getty Images
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Paul Lawrie is more determined than ever to regain full playing privileges for the European Tour after cutting it fine in keeping his perfect attendance record in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

The 49-year-old was the last man in to this week’s event, having been fourth reserve when he arrived in the UAE at the weekend before coming off the standby list on Tuesday when Australian Brett Rumford withdrew with a wrist injury.

It means Lawrie has retained his place among a small group of golfers to have played in one of the biggest events on the European Tour since its inception in 2006, the others to have teed up every year since then being Marc Warren, Henrik Stenson, Gregory Havret and Graeme Storm.

While surprised it came down to the wire, the reason that Lawrie almost missed out on this occasion is that he is currently having to rely on his category as one of the top 40 career-money earners on the circuit.

That would normally have got him into both this and next week’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic quite comfortably, but he is currently 13th reserve for the latter and will almost certainly miss out on playing in that for only the second time since 1992.

“I couldn’t believe when the entries closed for this week’s event that I was fourth or fifth reserve,” the eight-time European Tour winner told The Scotsman on the practice putting green at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. “To be honest, I didn’t even look and it was a bit of a surprise as we’d already booked flights and hotels for the next two weeks.

“Next week is just scary, though I suppose the two events being together has meant more players teeing up in both of them. That said, you’d have thought the category straight after guys who’ve got a card would be a lot closer than where I actually am.

“So it was a little bit of a shock that it came to the last minute, but I’m glad that I’m now in the field this week. I think I’ve got three more years in my current category still being exempt out here but, if you are not going into events like this from that, then you have got to try and keep your card. My goal is to play well enough this season to do that. I still feel as though I can compete if I stay healthy.”

Over the last couple of seasons, Lawrie has been hampered by a troublesome foot injury, which resulted in him going to Germany in November to see Dr Hans Wilhelm Muller-Wohlfahrt, a homeopathic specialist who helped prolong Jose Maria Olazabal’s career when the two-time Masters champion was was hit by rheumatoid arthritis.

“Apart from a few North-East Alliance events, Portugal in late September was the last tournament I played in, so I’m not sure what we are going to get this week,” he added. “The good thing is that I can see how my feet are because, in a one-off Alliance event, it’s not a test in that respect as you’re not hitting it under Tour conditions.

“They certainly feel better, though I won’t know until the next couple of days. It’s the walking and competing - the stress of it all compared to playing a bounce game with your loon.

“I’ve got to go back and see Dr Muller-Wohlfahrt in March. He’s not saying it’s totally fixed yet. He’s just saying there’s a process and we are a bit down it. He said I shouldn’t read too much into the first week back. It’s a long-term thing.”

The highlight of last season for Lawrie was winning the Dimension Data Pro-Am in South Africa, a success that earned him a place in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. In an ideal world, he’d have been returning to Fancourt next month to defend that title, but focusing on the European Tour is more important.

“I’m going to play Oman that week,” said Lawrie of the new Middle East event on this year’s schedule. “I sent the Dimension Data guy and email the other day saying I was sorry that I couldn’t come back to defend that this year.

“It’s important that I get my Tour numbers up and I’ll be back out for two weeks as I’ll have Qatar as well on that trip. It is is disappointing not to be defending in South Africa, but sometimes these things happen.”

In a years’ time, Lawrie will be eligible for Seniors’ events but it remains to be seen if that new chapter in his career will start on the Champions Tour in the US or the newly-branded Starsure Tour in Europe.

“I still don’t know exactly what I am going to do when I turn 50 as I don’t know what my exemption actually is for the Champions Tour,” he said. “There was word of them changing the major winner category to give people in that position a full year.

“Darren [Clarke] and Chubby [Chandler] were on about that, but I don’t know if that is actually the case. The plan at the minute is to play as many main Tour events as I can and mix in Senior events when I can.

“If that means it is European Senior Tour events rather than Champions Tour events, then I’m not bothered about that. I just want to get back to being competitive. It will be nice go back to being the youngest guy on the range as opposed to the oldest, which seems to have happened overnight.”

Lawrie’s oldest son, Craig, is on caddying duties this week, having given his own playing career a boost just before Christmas with his first victory as a professional on the Algarve Pro Golf Tour.

More recently, younger sibling Michael, who is still an amateur, also tasted success in Stirling University’s 72-hole event at Al Hamra in the UAE, leaving dad pleased about how both players are progressing in their respective careers.

“Craig’s first win was a huge thing for him, just in terms of confidence,” he admitted. “I think he’s got what it takes to play out here, never mind anywhere else. But you’ve still got to be able to do it and that first win was important.

“It was also great for Michael to win the Stirling event in his first year there. All the seniors were there so he was cock-a-hoop and rightly so. Our Michael doesn’t get excited too often. He’s quite cool and laid back but you could tell he was chuffed to bits.”