NEWPORT, Wales -- Former British Open champion Paul Lawrie's dream of a return to the Ryder Cup after 13 years is almost reality.
According to Captain Jose Maria Olazabal, the 43-year-old Scot, up to second in the standings behind Rory McIlroy, is "pretty much in" after finishing tied for second behind Luke Donald at the BMW PGA Championship last Sunday.
And while others might have raised their eyebrows about Lawrie deciding not to enter the U.S. Open -- he thinks he is better served staying in Europe to pick up more cup points -- Olazabal sees one big positive in that.
"It says a lot about what he thinks of the Ryder Cup, how important it is to him," said Olazabal.
Olazabal and Lawrie were teammates back in 1999 -- the fiercely contested "Battle of Brookline." The Spaniard waited seven years for his next appearance, but if Lawrie makes it to Chicago this September he will have bridged a gap almost twice as long.
Only Ireland's Christy O'Connor Jr. went longer. He debuted in 1975 and his second appearance came in 1989 at The Belfry, when his dramatic win over Fred Couples helped Europe retain the trophy.
Lawrie, the reigning British Open champion when he played in Boston, hit the opening drive of the week and partnered with Colin Montgomerie to win two and halve one of their four games together. He also beat Jeff Maggert in the singles to finish tied for the top points-scorer in the match with 3.5 points out of five.
The Aberdeen native has been an outsider looking in ever since, though. He was at Celtic Manor two years ago, but that was to commentate, not play.
Things started to change last March. Ranked 272nd in the world at the time, his win at the Andalucia Open was his first in nine years.
In December, he was runner-up to Alvaro Quiros at the Dubai World Championship; in February he won the Qatar Masters -- just as he did in 1999 -- and then on Sunday he shot a joint best-of-the-day 66 to tie Justin Rose for second place.
They were four behind Donald, whose masterclass took him back to world No. 1 ahead of McIlroy in the sixth change between them in less than three months, but the rewards were still plenty.
As well as moving up the Ryder Cup table, Lawrie jumped from 40th to 29th in the world, matching his highest-ever position of 12 years ago and, with Martin Laird missing the cut, making him Scotland's top player for the first time.
"It's more of a scheduling thing for me," he said of his decision to skip the U.S. Open. "The big priority and the big goal for me is to get back in the Ryder Cup team.
"I feel that the U.S. Open is not a venue that's ever suited to my game," he explained. "Not going means I can have two weeks off (following this week's Wales Open) and concentrate on the run of five tournaments afterwards."
And on why his career is hitting the heights again, Lawrie said: "I'm a better putter, I'm a slightly better ball-striker and I've been working out a little bit. I'm a little stronger, hitting the ball a bit further and playing a lot of golf at home.
"I was getting into a kind of rut of being quite technical and hitting balls instead of playing," he added. "When my boys (both promising players) got older, I started playing more with them and now all of a sudden I'm tournament sharp all the time, I feel."