Landmark 500th spurs Lawrie

For Paul Lawrie, the most recent Scot to win the Open, Thursday will mark a special day in his golfing life.

For Paul Lawrie, the most recent Scot to win the Open, Thursday will mark a special day in his golfing life.

For when the 43-year-old tees off this week in the first round of the Volvo Match Play Championship in Spain, it will be to play in his 500th European Tour event, a landmark previously achieved by just 22 others, only four of them Scots.

Lawrie told the media on Tuesday that he is hoping to use the moment to show that “there’s a wee bit left in the tank” – and in the kind of form he has been in during the past two seasons, there is every possibility that he can achieve this goal and, with it, take a step towards his ultimate target right now – a place in Jose Maria Olazabal’s 2012 Ryder Cup team.

“If I get in the Ryder Cup it would be the biggest achievement of my career, so that’s the motivation. I really want to play on that team. It would be huge for me,” Lawrie, who last played Ryder Cup golf 13 years ago.

Already fifth in the points standings, Lawrie, who made his European Tour debut 20 years ago in the 1992 Johnnie Walker Asian Classic. has the chance to move up to second this week – and with Martin Kaymer the only world top 10 player in the 24-strong line-up, his chances are good.

Four years after his Tour debut, the Scot won the first of his seven titles at the Catalan Open and then, at Carnoustie in 1999, came from a Major record 10 strokes back on the final day to beat Jean Van de Velde and Justin Leonard in a play-off.

Welshman Ian Woosnam is the only other Major champion ever to have reached 500 tournaments, but in making the list, Lawrie will join the likes of fellow Scots Sam Torrance and Colin Montgomerie, an eight-time European No 1, and Spanish veteran. Miguel Angel Jimenez.

Monty and cigar-puffing Jimenez are still active European Tour members and each is closing in 600 Tour starts, but Torrance remains the record-holder with an extraordinary 706 appearances.

“I turned pro at 17 with a five handicap in 1986 and then got to play with these boys each week – anything that happened after that was a bonus,” Lawrie recalls.

“I think that’s helped me longevity-wise. I still see it as ‘I can’t believe I’m out here winning and competing’.

“I still enjoy playing. I think I play more for fun now than I used to do now with my sons coming up and being good golfers.

“Playing with them is a help. About three or four years ago I thought I might just scale this down a bit and play a little bit less.

“Then the boys got pretty keen on their golf and I started playing a bit more at home and I’ve kicked on a bit again.

“I can see me getting to 600 appearances now, but to get to 700, where Sam is at, is a huge number. Playing for 40 years is just an incredible record.”

Lawrie went all of nine years without taking home a title until last year’s Andalucian Open,

Two months later he finished second in the prestigious Dubai World Championship in December and eight weeks later won the Qatar Masters – a performance which earned him his place in this week’s elite field

For the first round of this week’s event, the Aberdeen golfer has been drawn with in-form Swede Peter Hanson, currently second on the Ryder Cup table, and Colombian Camilo Villegas for the first two days of Round Robin action.

The format for this long-standing event has been changed. The 24-man field has been split into eight groups of three, with the top two in each going through to the last 16 at the weekend after having played against each other on a round robin basis.

Rose against Rock is one of two all-English clashes in the group stage. Defending champion Ian Poulter will play 21-year-old Tom Lewis on Friday in the other.

Lewis, who led The Open as an amateur last July, qualified by winning the Portugal Masters in only his third start as a professional.

THE DRAW (seeded positions in brackets based on world rankings):
Group 1: (1) Martin Kaymer, (16) Rafael Cabrera Bello, (24) Richard Finch
Group 2: (4) Graeme McDowell, (13) Robert Karlsson, (20) Jbe Kruger
Group 3: (2) Justin Rose, (15) Robert Rock, (19) Darren Clarke
Group 4: (3) Charl Schwartzel, (14) Nicolas Colsaerts, (18) Retief Goosen
Group 5: (5) Sergio Garcia, (12) Alvaro Quiros, (22) Tetsuji Hiratsuka
Group 6: (8) Ian Poulter, (9) John Senden, (23) Tom Lewis
Group 7: (6) Peter Hanson, (11) Paul Lawrie, (21) Camilo Villegas
Group 8: (7) Brandt Snedeker, (10) Thomas Bjorn, (17) Branden Grace
Last-16 draw (top two from each group to qualify):
Winner Group 1 v Runner-up Group 2
Winner Group 2 v Runner-up Group 1
Winner Group 3 v Runner-up Group 4
Winner Group 4 v Runner-up Group 3
Winner Group 5 v Runner-up Group 6
Winner Group 6 v Runner-up Group 5
Winner Group 7 v Runner-up Group 8
Winner Group 8 v Runner-up Group 7