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Lawrie joins 'belly' brigade to halt putting slide

PETER LAWRIE has joined professional golf's ever-expanding belly putter brigade.

Frustrated with his performance on European Tour greens last year, the 37-year-old Dubliner has resorted to a belly putter at this week's Joburg Open, his first tournament of 2012.

The use of over-sized putters has flourished over the past 12 months, encouraged no doubt by Keegan Bradley's breakthrough Major Championship victory at the PGA Championship and headline performances by Webb Simpson and Adam Scott on the US Tour.

American icon Phil Mickelson even gave the belly putter a try during the FedEx Cup play-offs, while Ernie Els, a fierce critic of long putters in the recent past, has been using one since last May in a desperate bid to find some form on the greens.

Among the leading Irish professionals, Darren Clarke briefly dabbled with the belly putter a few years back.

Paul McGinley says he'd never use a club which needed to be anchored on any part of the body, belly or sternum and is joined in the traditionalist lobby by his fellow Dubliner Padraig Harrington.

Though three-times Major-winner Harrington feels absolutely no desire or need to pick up a belly putter right now, he refuses to say 'never' about his prospects of using one in the future.

"I'd be very happy if I said to you at the end of 2012 that I'd played as well as last year but I'd be very disappointed if I putted the same," Lawrie explained earlier this week.

"I've been taking a stroke a round more on the greens than when I started on Tour in 2003 -- that's four shots a tournament, which is massive."

The Irishman sank a few nice putts yesterday, most notably from 15 feet for birdie on 14, which he followed with a veritable tap-in for eagle three at the next after a phenomenal approach shot.

However, Lawrie then missed a relatively short putt for birdie at 17 before leaving a seven-footer for par on the lip at the last.

His second-round 68 on Royal Johannesburg's West Course left Lawrie dangling overnight just inside the cut-mark with defending champion Charl Schwartzel on three-under after violent electrical storms brought proceedings to a premature halt for the second successive day.

England's Robert Rock eased to 11-under and into a one-stroke lead over Lawrie's South African playing companions Jbe Kruger and Branden Grace, with his second-round 67 on the West Course.

However, joint overnight leader Damien McGrane had slipped back to seven-under (and a share of ninth) after completing just three holes of his second round.

The Kells man had to wait until first light today for any further opportunity to make up for a frustrating bogey six on his opening hole on the tougher East Course.

- Fit-again Graham DeLaet opened up a two-stroke lead after the first round of the Sony Open in Hawaii. The Canadian missed the whole of the 2011 season with a neck complaint and is currently on the tour with a medical exemption.

He carded a seven-under 63 in Honolulu to end the day ahead of Sweden's Carl Petterson, South Korean KJ Choi and Kyle Reifers, who are tied for second on five-under.

DeLaet started the day with a birdIe at the first before the only blemish came with a bogey on four. From there he compiled a serene round, with five more birdies and a stunning eagle on the par-five ninth.

Joburg Open,

Live, SS1, 10.0;SS2, 1.0; SS3, 6.0,

Sony Open,

Live, SS1, 12.0

Irish Independent