Peter Lawrie rebounded spectacularly from a devastating second round meltdown in Morocco last week to grab the first round lead in the Sicilian Open with an eight under 64.
The 38-year old Dubliner - frustrated by mediocre putting last year - was at a low ebb heading to Verdura Golf Resort & Spa after missing his fourth cut from six starts this season at the Trophée Hassan II.
After opening with a 69 and then opening with two birdies in his first three holes in the second round, he came back to the course on Saturday and had a nightmare.
“Delighted after last week,” he said after his nine-birdie 64 gave him a one shot lead over Soren Kjeldsen, Jamie Donaldson and Tano Goya while Clara’s Shane Lowry is lurking just inside the top 10 after a 67,
“I got it to four, maybe five under [last week] and then played 12 holes in six-over on Saturday morning. I walked off the golf course devastated, I really did.
“Then I came here, really practiced hard for a couple of days and I’m delighted to hole a few putts today, a few of them on the back nine falling in the front door.”
Lawrie hit 16 greens and still had just 26 putts as he raced to the turn in five under 31 and then picked up another four birdies on the journey home with his only bogey coming, ironically, at the 13th.
Asked by Sky Sports what was the key to his turnaround, he hinted that it had more to do with pride than anything else.
“I think a right boot somewhere from myself,” he said. “I got off to a poor start this season and I can’t really put my finger on it, to be honest with you. The golf is there but I just haven’t been putting the scores together.”
Scoring was red-hot at the new, links-style course designed by Kyle Phillips with 90 players in the 144-man field breaking par.
After opening with an over par round in three of his first five events, Lowry was chuffed with his five under 67 as Gareth Maybin shot 68, Simon Thornton 69 and Paul McGinley and sponsor’s invitee Gary Murphy managed 71’s.
A resort course with little rough to trouble players off the tee, it suits Lawrie’s eye as he bids to add to his solitary European Tour win at the Spanish Open four years ago.
“It’s beautiful,” Lawrie said. “Forgiving off the tee, I have to admit, but the design is very good. There’s a good bit of run on the fairways, which gives us short-hitters a good chance out there.
“I love playing Kingsbarns so, yes, Kyle Phillips would be a designer I like.
“You can make a few birdies on the closing holes but you just have to watch that 18th. It’s a daunting tee shot, really. I just made my mind to hit it at the bunker up there on the left hand side, hit it as hard as I could and just hope for the best. That water certainly is in your mind as you tee off.”
Lawrie got up and down to save his par but what really pleased him about the day was his putting.
“I putted beautifully, especially on the front nine,” he said. “I holed two 20 footers in a row, and I didn’t hole a single 20 footer for the entire season last year!
“So that really set the tone, because it makes you feel like you can hole anything. When I had a few chances coming in I managed to take them, and getting up and down for par on the last was very important.”
For a man making his 287th European Tour appearance, there is no need to tell Lawrie that there is a long way to go.
“I’ll just keep on plodding away,” he said. “I’m not going to get ahead of myself after the start to the season I’ve had, I’m just going to try and keep on going forward.”
Lowry is as keen as Lawrie to get his second European Tour win and believes he’s certainly playing well enough to challenge for it this week and then celebrate his 25th birthday in style on Monday.
“The only thing that’s been missing over the last few weeks has been a fast start, and I’ve managed to get off to a good one today,” Lowry said after finishing his day with a hat-trick of birdies on the front nine.
“So hopefully I can build on it from here. I’m in a very confident frame of mind, mainly because I’ve been playing very well lately. And I think that showed in my round today, because I played some lovely stuff.”
Cautious when asked if a win felt close, he said: “You can never really afford to think like that, because there are so many really good golfers out here on the Tour.
“I played with Soren today, and he played some wonderful stuff to shoot seven under par. All I can do is to go out and play my best golf, and hopefully that’s good enough.”
Starting on the 10th, Lowry birdied the 11th, bogeyed the par-three 12th but then eagled the 523 yard 13th before a bogey at the last saw him turn in two under.
Six pars in a row followed before he finished with a flourish with three birdies in a row.
“If I get the rub of the green and things go my way, I might get a win under my belt. But it’s not something I think about too often. As long as I keep doing the right things, hopefully the results will take care of themselves.”
Playing in just his third full season on the tour, Lowry has slowly built up a head of steam this year.
After missing the cut in Abu Dhabi and Qatar, he was 66th in Dubai, 17th in the Andalucia Open and seventh behind Michael Hoey in Morocco last week.
“I’ve got two weeks off [after this], then I’ll play three in a row, then take two weeks off before Wentworth,” he said. “So I’m excited about the season, because I feel like my game is starting to shape up nicely now.”