Lawrie stands firm in stiff test of credentials
WHEN the west wind blows in over Gibraltar as wickedly as it did yesterday, guiding a golf ball safely around the tight, tree-lined fairways of Valderrama is a bit like trying to thread a needle on a moving bus.
Painful slips are unavoidable, which made Aberdeen's Richie Ramsay's first-round 65 at the Andalucia Masters appear utterly astonishing on a day when just eight players in a star-studded field of 96 European Tour professionals managed to break par.
Prominent among them was Peter Lawrie (37), who posted his best score ever at Valderrama, a splendid one-under-par 71 which left the Castleknock man tied fifth with Sergio Garcia and Scott Strange.
Lawrie is well suited to yesterday's challenge. He's a disciplined, precise golfer and, temperamentally, is blessed with a high pain threshold, making him appear almost impervious to the occasional jab.
Though he'd two three-putt bogeys on his card yesterday, Lawrie still putted soundly, as exemplified by the eight-footer he sank for a bogey five at 18 after a succession of shots that might have stretched the patience of a saint.
Lawrie is 54th in the Order of Merit and hoping this weekend to boost his ranking sufficiently to allow him to tempt fate and buy an air ticket to Dubai for his father-in-law Bernard Hudson.
"It's the one event he really likes going to each year, but I can't buy the ticket just yet. Bernard looks after me, so I have to look after him. He minds things at home when I'm not there," explained the father of four. Hitting wedges and short-irons close was exceptionally difficult on greens softened by torrential early-morning rain, but still running at 12.5 on the stimp, exceptionally fast by European standards.
Indeed, former world No 1 Martin Kaymer berated Tour officials for cutting so many of those holes close to the back of Valderrama's small, raised greens, making it virtually impossible to hit it close with shots which invariably bit hard and sucked back huge distances. Not that Ramsay was bothered, holing out from a greenside bunker at two for the first of his five birdies and chipping in from heavy rough just short of the green for another at the par-three 15th.
Significantly, the Scot was in the first group out yesterday morning and revealed the wind only became a factor as he played the 11th, blowing up at just the right time for him to hit this long par-five in two before sinking a lengthy putt for eagle. Ross Fisher recovered brilliantly from a triple-bogey seven at eight to shoot 67 and claim second place, one ahead of two other early starters, Gregory Havret and Stephen Gallacher.
He now ranks high among the favourites to relieve Graeme McDowell of his Andalucia Masters title on Sunday.
Portrush man McDowell, still seeking his first win of 2011, dropped two shots in the final five holes of a frustrating first-round 73 and confessed: "I'm not in control of my golf ball at all right now.
"I'm scared to aim at the right side of the golf course because I can't hit my draw very well and I'm scared to aim at the left because my fade's not there all the time. It's very, very close, but I just can't seem to hit the switch."
Shane Lowry played well enough during yesterday's 72 to suggest he'll make the "hundred grand or so" he needs to secure his place in the top 60 on the European Tour Money List before season's end and play for the first time in December's Dubai World Championship.
Currently 63rd despite missing the first three months of the season with a broken wrist, Lowry was three-under and bogey-free through 11.
He then hit "a couple of loose shots", leading to a bogey at 13, double at 14 and another dropped stroke at 16, before holing from 20 feet for an epic par at 18.
"That was an historic up and down," enthused Lowry's coach Neil Manchip, caddying this week because Dermot Byrne's partner is expecting a baby soon.
"Shane played some excellent golf, but if you get slightly out of position on this course, it'll make you look silly."
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