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Scottish Open: Lawrie goes in pursuit of missing link

Fit like?

Castle Stuart offers a bright hope for Paul Lawrie to turn his season around   Photograph: Getty
Castle Stuart offers a bright hope for Paul Lawrie to turn his season around Photograph: Getty

It is the obvious question to ask an Aberdonian when inquiring about their general fettle. "I've got a sore back, I've got a sore groin and now my neck is hurting, but apart from that I'm fine," reported Paul Lawrie, as he reeled off the kind of aches and pains you would tend to pick up after a shuddering stint on a bucking bronco.

Like a slab of granite, Lawrie is made of stern stuff but the aggravating ailments have caused some concern as the Scottish Open and The Open Championship loom on the horizon. The next fortnight promises to be a real golfing rodeo ride and the little niggles have already hindered Lawrie's preparations. As a precautionary measure, he decided to withdraw from last week's French Open in an attempt to be fighting fit for the rigours of Castle Stuart and Muirfield.

"I'm not thinking it will be bad enough to prevent me playing the next two weeks but the fact that my neck is sore now is a little concerning," admitted the 1999 Open champion. "Obviously, I would have liked to have played this week. The Scottish Open and The Open are the two biggest weeks of the year for any Scottish tour pro and ideally you want to be playing going into it. But I didn't play for quite a few weeks before the Masters and did all right there. I'm big enough, ugly enough and have been doing this long enough to know what I have to do to get myself fit."

With Ernie Els, the reigning Open champion, and four-time Major winner Phil Mickelson bolstering this week's Highland gathering, anticipation is building ahead of the Scottish showpiece. There are plenty of big hitters who won't be there, of course, and one in particular has managed to hit the organisers where it hurts. And he didn't event shout fore. Graeme McDowell, who won the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond in 2008, suddenly decided to have a pop at the championship during the Irish Open, suggesting the event had "lost its prestige".

"My answer to what he said would simply be that the Scottish Open has a title sponsor, it's got more money than Graeme's national open and it's played on a links course," said Lawrie in defence of the Scottish event which has a purse almost double that of the Irish Open and still holds that much sought after slot in the schedule the week before The Open itself. "Everyone is entitled to their opinions but they were poor comments. He should know better."

McDowell's enthusiasm for the Scottish Open may have waned but everyone knows how much passion Lawrie harbours for his national championship. Perhaps too much passion. "The thing I get wrong is that I tell folk how much the Scottish Open means to me," he said.

Lawrie will be the first to admit that his record in an event which has appeared in a number of guises on the schedule down the years is far from dazzling. Since making his debut during his rookie season of 1992, Lawrie has managed only one top-10 finish, at Loch Lomond in 2008. Given that his most notable wins have arrived in his own backyard, it is a statistic that still befuddles. The 44-year-old has won just about everything there is to win in Scotland; The Open at Carnoustie, the Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews and the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles. With successes such as the 1990 Scottish Assistants' Championship, the Scottish Brewers Championship on the Challenge Tour in 1992 and the Tartan Tour's flagship Scottish PGA Championship in both 1992 and 2005, he has quite a tally of tartan triumphs.

But there is still a gap on the CV. "The national open is very important and, ideally, you want your name on the trophy before you go," he said. "But apart from 2008, I can't think of any other year where I've really done well.

"I tend to play better in Scotland than anywhere. Three of my biggest wins have been in the biggest events with the most expectation. Last year, at the Johnnie Walker, I'd made the Ryder Cup team and everyone was backing me to have a good week and I went out and won. It doesn't come bigger than that, doing it when the pressure is on. I don't think I'm trying too hard at the Scottish Open, I just haven't played well enough."

After his miraculous 2012 season, which reached its peak when he played a major part in Europe's Miracle of Medinah, the 2013 campaign has been one of frustration. This time last year, Lawrie had notched a victory, four other top-10s and had made the semi-finals of the World Matchplay Championship. While he has picked up a deserved OBE for his services to the game this year, the golfing gongs have not materialised and a share of seventh in his first tournament in South Africa back in January remains his only top-10. You won't hear him whingeing, though.

"Last year I got off to a great start, the confidence was high, I was injury free, I was in contention most weeks and the whole year just flew by," he reflected. "This year has just been the complete opposite. There have been wee injuries too and it all adds up to me being 61st on the Order of Merit. That's not where I want to be. But I always feel that I'm unbelievably lucky to do what I do, even when I'm playing poorly. I love it, I still absolutely love it. I wouldn't do it if I didn't. One good week can turn it all around."

He may have his aches but golf will never be a pain in the neck for Paul Lawrie.

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