Paul Lawrie believes Justin Rose’s rise to world No 1 is a “big boost”, not just for the Englishman but all his European team-mates heading into this week’s Ryder Cup at Le Golf National outside Paris.
Boasting 12 players sitting inside the world’s top 25 and also being the holders, the Americans are favourites for the match, which starts on Friday, as they bid to record a first win on European soil in the biennial bout since 1993.
However, two-time Ryder Cup player Lawrie reckons Europe can just shade things in the eagerly-awaited tussle in France and believes Rose can help inspire that success on the back of his recent ascent to the top of the golfing world.
“I think both teams are really strong, I think they’re pretty even. I heard someone say a few weeks ago that the average world ranking of each team is 12 – if that’s the case then it’s probably the closest the teams have ever been on paper,” said the Aberdonian, who was one of Darren Clarke’s vice-captains at Hazeltine two years ago.
“America are slight favourites probably, but only slightly. I have Europe down to win it, but it will be close.
“The European team is looking strong, a lot of guys on the team are winning – and having Justin Rose as world No 1 will be a big boost for everyone.
“His rise to the top of the rankings will help the rest of the guys to know they have the best player in the world on their team.”
Rose overcame a nightmare start to his professional career, missing 21 cuts in a row, to secure a foothold before winning the 2013 US Open then claiming Olympic gold two years ago. A whole host of other successes included a Scottish Open triumph in 2014 in Lawrie’s home city.
“I’ve always been a massive fan of Justin,” he added. “He’s a great guy to spend time with, down to earth and someone who speaks to everybody. It’s great to see someone like that get to the top of the world rankings.
“If you look at the stats, the last four or five years Justin has always been outside the top 100 when it comes to putting. But this year I think he’s 11th in a stat for holing putts from four to six feet or something similar.
“Even though Justin has always been a great ball-striker, he used to miss a lot from that distance but he’s really improved and, for me, that’s been the big difference for him. We’ve all known about [putting guru] Phil Kenyon for a long time, but he really does get players putting better and, as everyone knows, that’s a major part of the game.”
Both Lawrie’s appearances in the event at Brookline in 1999 then Medinah 13 years later – were in teams that included Sergio Garcia, a controversial wildcard pick by Thomas Bjorn on this occasion after the Spaniard had been out of form this season.
“He’s proved that he wins points and we all hope he does,” said Lawrie of the 2017 Masters champion. “He’s such a consistent player and his form has not been how he normally plays. Missing the cuts in all the majors is not like him at all.
“I suppose he was a slightly controversial pick but Thomas has obviously spoken to Sergio and Sergio must have said he wasn’t playing as badly as his form suggests.
“Sometimes that happens. But the Ryder Cup will bring it out of him. There are not many players who can go to a Ryder Cup out of form and produce it that week, but I think he is one. I hope Thomas has got that right.
“To see Sergio in the team room is phenomenal. It’s a thing to see. The two I played in, he was young in 1999, and in 2012 he was phenomenal in the team room, by far the best we have in Europe. I think it’s a good pick. I would have put him in.
“He’s one of these guys who goes round the room and speaks to everyone and keeps everyone going. He’s good fun, he’s in the middle of all the mischief that goes on. He’s a livewire, he gets everyone up in the room, phenomenal. Thomas mentioned that when he made the pick.”
Lawrie will be watching the event on TV with his feet up at home in Aberdeen as he recovers from a foot operation, having decided to shut down his 2018 season in the summer to give himself a chance of being ready to start his Champions Tour campaign after turning 50 on 1 January.
“The surgeon is happy with how it went,” he reported. “He repaired the tendon that he said was ruptured and I had a torn ligament in there as well. He also shaved away some bone spurs that I had at the top of my mid-foot.
“So I had quite a bit done but he’s happy with it and now I’ve just got a few weeks of sitting watching daytime TV, which, if you’ve ever watched, you’ll know is not the best!
“I’m looking forward to watching the Ryder Cup, though.
“It’s always a highlight for anyone, whether you’ve played it before or a fan sitting back home.”