When Paul Lawrie won the Open Championship at Carnoustie in 1999, much was made of the steely determination and will-to-win the Scot exhibited in the play-off, where he got the better of Jean Van de Velde and Justin Leonard.
Success, as with most aspects of golf, becomes a habit, and Lawrie got into winning ways four months earlier in the Qatar Masters at Doha Golf Club, recording a spectacular 20 under par winning total of 268 to finish seven shots clear of the chasing pack.
Although the victory was not the Scot’s first on The European Tour, his win in the 1996 Open Catalonia came over only 36 holes, so the victory in the desert over the full distance signified to Lawrie himself that he had finally come of age.
Alterations to his playing schedule meant the Scot was not able to defend the title last year but this year will see Lawrie return to Qatar for the first time, a prospect he admitted he was relishing.
“I’m really looking forward to going back, in fact I’m really looking forward to the season as a whole,’’ he said. “Obviously I didn’t go back last year because of the way my playing schedule panned out – I wanted to go but I just didn’t have time.
“But one of the reasons I’m looking forward to playing there again was the fact the win two years ago meant so much to me, not least for the fact it was my first over 72 holes on the European Tour.
“It also came a bit out of the blue which was doubly nice. I had had a knee injury over the winter which meant I played hardly any golf at all. The Dubai Desert Classic was my first event that year and I played really badly.
“I played two rounds and shot 76-78 to miss the cut by miles, it was awful. After that I concentrated on practice and worked hard over the weekend on the range in Dubai.
“I hit a lot of balls and did a lot of good work. I didn’t go to Qatar expecting a miraculous improvement or anything like that, but all of a sudden it just clicked, I started to play well, and everything just came together.”
Four months later at Carnoustie, Lawrie’s deadly accuracy on the greens helped him lift the Claret Jug, and it was his red-hot putter which also paved the way to glory in Qatar, especially during his second round 65 which saw him move to the top of the leaderboard, a position he was not to relinquish.
“I have to say I putted fantastically well that week,” said Lawrie. “Obviously I holed my fair share of birdie putts but I hardly missed anything at all from inside ten or 12 feet – which is why I got it to 20 under par of course.”
Lawrie’s putter will have to be on top form again this week on a course where the greens are large, but where the subtle slopes and strong grain will make the breaks hard to read. The fairways are fairly generous in what is a straightforward test of golf, but if the notorious Shamal wind gets up, it can become a very tough examination.
“The Shamal gets up around the same time every day and tends to stay there, so you just have to get used to it,” said Lawrie. “It does tend to come from the same direction every day which helps a bit, but obviously it can be very windy at times which makes it tough.
“The 16th hole, with the large rock in the middle of the fairway is a memorable hole but there are at least six or seven other holes on the course that catch the eye and are a joy to play.”
Also of note is the 634 yard par five ninth hole which is one of the longest currently in use on the European Tour, while the par three’s offer some of the toughest shots to greens with water in play on three of the four on the card.
One aspect Lawrie admitted he was very pleased with as he headed for Qatar was his own fitness level, seemingly at last free of the injury worry surrounding a groin strain which plagued him in the latter half of last year.
“Right now I feel fantastic,” he said. “Really since Christmas I haven’t felt anything so that’s six weeks now of just standing up and hitting the ball as normal which is good.
“I still stretch regularly because every now and again I still feel it a little bit. It can happen in the strangest situations like sitting in the wrong position watching television but I’ve not felt it playing golf for a while.
“I think it’s one of these things which will always be with me and as a result it is always in the back of my mind. But the good thing for me is that I am fully fit now, I’ve been working hard with Adam (Hunter) recently, and I’m quietly confident about the season.”