Former Open champion Paul Lawrie enhanced his reputation as a bad-weather specialist to remain firmly on course for an unprecedented third victory in the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters.
But defending champion Branden Grace could also create history as the first player to successfully defend the title after a brilliant 68 gave him a share of second place alongside Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen.
Lawrie defied strong winds at Doha Golf Club to card 16 pars and two birdies to finish 13 under par, two ahead of Grace and Olesen, with England’s Tommy Fleetwood and Spain’s Rafael Cabrera-Bello a shot further back.
The 47-year-old’s first win in Qatar came in 1999, the same year as his Open triumph at Carnoustie, with the second in 2012 helping him secure a Ryder Cup return at Medinah.
“It’s nice to know you’ve been there, done it before a couple times on a golf course,” Lawrie said. “Every week we play, your job is to get yourself in contention with nine holes to play and hopefully we can do that tomorrow.
“There’s a lot of good players behind me. Branden Grace won here before and is well up the world rankings so (Saturday) is going to be a different challenge, but I’m looking forward to it.”
Lawrie’s last win came in the Johnnie Walker Championship in 2012, but believes he has not forgotten how to get over the winning line. “I had a couple of top-10s back-to-back last year at KLM and Denmark and really should have been higher up in both,” he added. “I had a good chance to win both on the back nine.
“It’s not as though it’s been years and hopefully I kind of get in there and hit the shots that I’m hitting and knock a few putts in and it all goes well.”
Lawrie carded 13 straight pars and admitted: “Me being me I’m thinking there’s a bogey coming. Obviously you want your next one to be a birdie but sometimes when you make that many pars, it goes the wrong way. But I kept plugging away, I kept going, my attitude was good towards the end of the back nine.
“I knew I was going to make a birdie at some point in time so you’ve got to be patient. Sometimes they don’t go in, even though you’re hitting good putts. Everyone’s got that now and again.”
England’s Richard Bland is five off the lead after carding a 67, the lowest score of the day, with 2014 winner Sergio Garcia two shots further back after salvaging a 74 thanks to an eagle on the 18th.
Nicolas Colsaerts had twice shared the lead with former Ryder Cup partner Lawrie after two early birdies, but ran up a triple-bogey seven on the 14th when his attempted recovery shot from a sandy waste area hit a tree around 20 yards in front of him and bounced back into a bush.
The 33-year-old eventually carded a 77 to finish eight off the lead on five under.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved