Monday 22 January 2018

Lawrie well placed in scramble for lucrative Open spot

Dermot Gilleece

WHILE Francesco Molinari swept into the outright lead with a third-round 67 in the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart yesterday, Ireland's Peter Lawrie remained in contention for a precious Open Championship qualifying place.

In fact, the Dubliner has to pass only three players today to earn inclusion into this week's Royal Lytham field.

Lawrie had no bogeys in a solid 68 to be 13-under-par on 203 and sharing ninth place with five others, including the defending champion and world number one, Luke Donald. But one suspects his focus will be more on a high finish than on catching the in-form Italian, who ended last week's French Open with a sparkling 64.

Having missed the cut in his only Open appearance in 2005 at St Andrews, Lawrie has since failed to qualify, though he made his debut in the US Open at The Olympic Club last month.

As a bonus at Castle Stuart, an Open place will be awarded to the leading finisher in the top-five and ties this evening, who is not already exempt. As things stand, there are eight players ahead of Lawrie but five of them -- Molinari, Anders Hansen, Martin Laird, Phil Mickelson and Alex Noren -- have already booked their places for Lytham, which means that the three in Lawrie's way are Soren Kjeldsen, Marc Warren and Peter Whitfield.

Meanwhile, the 29-year-old Italian is clearly a formidable leader. Having begun this event with a sizzling 62 on Thursday, he managed a 70 on Friday despite starting with a triple-bogey. And with arguably the best putting spell of his career, he got back on the birdie-trail in serious fashion when a three at the 10th gave him the outright lead.

From an Irish standpoint, there was disappointment in the struggle of Shane Lowry who seemed set to become a serious challenger for the title on Friday, only to be knocked back by a double-bogey on the 16th. In the event, he followed that effort with another 69 for a share of 16th place.

Padraig Harrington had better fortune, however, in an event he is using as a serious warm-up for Lytham. With a 67 in which he seemed on decidedly good terms with an often unpredictable blade, he moved up the order to be tied 23rd and set for a serious attack over today's final 18.

On a day of very hot scoring, joint overnight leader Noren had a dispiriting 70 which included a wretched eight at the long 12th and a closing six at the long 18th, holes where he might reasonably have expected to be five strokes better.

See Pages 8 and 9

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