Sleepless nights and feeling nervous had proved a winning formula for Paul Lawrie as he racked up the majority of his seven regular European Tour triumphs. An eighth success slipped from his grasp last weekend after the Aberdonian encountered the complete opposite on both counts for the first time in his career.
Four days on from squandering a two-shot lead heading into the final round of the Qatar Masters – he closed with a 78 to finish joint-13th behind South African Branden Grace – Lawrie was still hurting as he headed out for a practice round ahead of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
The 47-year-old couldn’t believe that he’d capitulated in such a way and was disappointed, both that his game came unstuck in the heat of battle and also that his mental fortitude had let him down in a winning opportunity.
As the desert dust settled on one of the darkest days of his distinguished career, Lawrie realised that something had been different in the build up to the final round in Doha.
“To say Saturday was disappointing doesn’t come close to describing it,” he told The Scotsman. “In all the time I’ve played, I’ve never been in with a chance of winning and shot a score as high as that, but these things happen. I got unlucky at the second when my ball hit someone and kicked left into a bush. Then, on the ninth admittedly after a poor shot, I hit someone again and it ricocheted 60 yards left into the scrub. When you add in a few poor shots, plus my attitude not being great when it started to go wrong, it soon added up to a big score.
“It was only the third week of my season after a long break over the winter and to be two ahead with a round to go in a top-class field meant I had played some wonderful golf. But to finish the way I did was disappointing.
“I’ve been working a bit with [sports psychologist] John Mathers. I spoke to him the other day and said that any chance I’d had to win in the past, I hadn’t slept the night before, felt a bit nervous in the morning but normally managed to get the job done.
“Whereas on Saturday I felt the opposite. I slept great, I felt quite calm in the morning and felt quite confident. When I look back on what happened at the weekend, I think I quite like to feel a bit apprehensive because I think it helps you focus a bit more. I wasn’t trying to do anything different, but it was weird how it worked out.”
After using a visit to one of the local malls to switch off for a bit on Sunday morning, the former Open champion was out on the practice range for this week’s event for four hours in the afternoon to try and eradicate the damaging pull that had suddenly crept back into his game at an inopportune time. “I’d not hit that destructive low left shot for a while, but it returned with a vengeance on Saturday,” he admitted, ruefully.
One of eight Scots in the field, Lawrie is looking to improve on a mediocre record at this venue. “It’s important that I’ve got another big event this week,” he admitted. “Not to get away from the negative stuff necessarily, but that’s what happens when are a golfer who plays 20 events per year.
“I had a good final round here last year. I think I was six-under. But I’ve never played that well on this course, which is illustrated by the fact I’ve never had a top 10 here. I have at Dubai Creek but not here. I know I am swinging well; I know that I am playing well. I’m also putting a bit better, so there’s no reason why I can’t have a good week.”
In three years’ time, Lawrie will be eligible for the over-50s circuits, but he is planning a schedule that will still contain a number of European Tour events and, moreover, believes Qatar won’t be his last winning opportunity.
“I don’t think I’ve ever lost my appetite for winning out here,” he said. “I’m 47, but I feel an awful lot younger than that. I’m probably as fit and healthy as I’ve been for a long, long time. I want to get back into the top 50 before I become I senior – that’s been my goal for a long time.
“I don’t think I’m actually going to play that much senior golf. I will mix it a bit between the main Tour and the Seniors’ circuit. I’m not going to be a full-time senior. I think 75 per cent of my schedule will still be on the main Tour when I turn 50 because I’m exempt.”
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