Friday, 19 March 2010
Paul Lawrie, who spent his youth battling against fierce, windy conditions in his native North-east of Scotland, displayed an assured command of similarly difficult weather in winning the Qatar Masters by seven strokes at Doha Golf Club.

The 30-year-old Aberdonian shot four rounds in the sixties - 68, 65, 67 and 68 - to record the largest winning margin on the European Tour in 1999 with a magnificent 20-under-par total of 268.

Lawrie followed in the footsteps of another Scot, Andrew Coltart, when he received the glittering ‘Mother of Pearl’ trophy from Sheikh Abdullah, and the tartan touch was completed by the lone piper who greeted the new champion after he sank the final putt.

It was a superbly disciplined and controlled display by Lawrie, who recalled some windswept days on the links of Cruden Bay when he could not hit a three iron further than 100 yards into the gale.

Doha, presented in immaculate condition, was not quite as formidable but the fact that Coltart and Lawrie have won the first two Qatar Masters titles, and the presence of other Scots near the top of the leaderboard, suggests that windy weather suits those born in the Home of Golf.

Lawrie’s victory was achieved in awesome style. He took over the pace-setting duties from first round leaders Raymond Russell and Marc Farry at the halfway stage, and gradually drew away from a top class field.

Victory, worth 143,196 euro, secured the Scot his second European Tour title, but his first over the full distance of 72 holes. In 1996 he won the Catalan Open after the tournament was abbreviated to 36 holes. This triumph, though, was considerably sweeter.

He said: "I was a little bit fed up hearing about my other win being over two rounds, but I still felt that a win is a win. This, though, is obviously better than Catalan. I played beautifully all week."

Lawrie, thanks to his second round 65, moved into pole position on 133, 11 under par. That was sufficient to give him a two-stroke lead, but he increased the margin to five strokes after shooting a 67 in the third round.

Midway through the final round of 68, Lawrie recognised that he "had to do something ridiculously silly" to allow the title to escape his eager clutches. There was never any prospect of that happening.

Four consecutive birdies around the turn, from the eighth to the 11th, ended the challenge of Russell, Frenchman Jean van de Velde and Phil Price of Wales, while Denmark’s Søren Kjeldsen moved into a tie for second with Price, both players matching Lawrie’s final round 68.

It was a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for Kjeldsen, who kept his card by the small matter of £250 at the end of last season. He watched in agony at home in Denmark as the Belgacom Open was resolved and he finished in 115th position and narrowly avoided a return to the Qualifying School.

He said: "It’s a strange but wonderful game. I had to wait until the final event to keep my card last year. Now I’ve earned enough to keep it before the end of February."

John Bickerton, of England, who returned to the main Tour via the Challenge Tour in 1998, also made certain of playing privileges for the year 2000 by finishing fourth on 277, 11 under par.

Even a last hole glitch, when he missed a short putt, did not prove costly as Bickerton finished alone in fourth ahead of a group of three players on 278, including Russell, who did suffer an expensive last hole lapse.

The Scottish Alfred Dunhill Cup and World Cup player twice visited water at the last and ran up a triple bogey eight to share fifth with Christopher Hanell and Jean Van de Velde, when a birdie four would have given him outright second place.

Lawrie, though, was the master of his own destiny. After 54 holes he had built a commanding five-stroke lead over Van de Velde, while Russell and another Scot, Stephen Gallacher, were lurking just behind.

The final round proved to be diappointing for Challenge Tour graduate Gallacher, the nephew of former Ryder Cup captain, Bernard. He slipped back with a 76 to take 15th place but displayed enough potential to suggest better days ahead.

Lawrie was quick to pay tribute to his new coach, Adam Hunter, who recently quit the European Tour to focus on a different career as a coaching professional. It was Hunter, based at the Scottish National Golf Centre at Drumoig near St.Andrews, who phoned Lawrie every night with instructional advice.

"I have to thank Adam and Dr Richard Cox, a sports psychologist I’ve been seeing for the past two or three years" he said. "Adam gave me some new swing thoughts after I missed the cut in Dubai and - hey presto - it worked. Richard has also done a great job. I am a lot better mentally nowadays.

"My target now is to play consistently more often and try to drop in another win before the end of the year. I don’t see why not. Playing for Scotland in the Alfred Dunhill Cup is also a target as I’ve never done that before."

Standing on the 18th tee, Lawrie could have afforded the luxury of taking an eleven and still captured the stunning trophy. However he didn’t even dare think in those terms.

He explained with a smile: "I took a ten in a North-east of Scotland Winter Alliance about five weeks ago at Buckpool, the scene of my first win as a professional. I had three out of bounds and it wasn’t much fun."

But, just like in Doha, Lawrie did have the last laugh. Despite that double figure error, he still won the event with a round of 66. Outstanding playing in anyone’s language!

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