Martin Laird? He simply refused to lose Sunday at Bay HillMarch 27, 2011
PGA TOUR staff
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Closing out a golf tournament is never easy. Especially when the greens are as hard as bricks and you're not playing your best golf.
This wasn't a U.S. Open, even if it played like one with more carnage at Bay Hill than a Quentin Tarantino movie.
In the end, Martin Laird managed his bad golf better than anyone else did and that led to a one-stroke victory Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard.
That's the sort of golf we've come to expect from a certain six-time winner of this event -- Adam Scott once told me following the 2006 PGA Championship that Tiger Woods is better than everyone else because he manages his mistakes better than anyone else, and that adds up over four days.
Laird made his share of mistakes Sunday, playing his first 11 holes in 5 over to see a two-shot lead eventually turn into a three-shot deficit. But, much like Woods has done so many times here and elsewhere, Laird figured out how to close.
"I never thought about not winning," said Laird, whose 75 was the highest finish by a winner in the storied history of this tournament. "That's not to say I knew I was going to win, but that was the focus.
"When I was three down, I didn't have a choice. I had to start playing some golf. I had to make birdies."
That's exactly what Laird did with a bounce-back birdie on the par-4 15th, where he rolled in a 22-footer, and another on the par-5 16th, where he got up-and-down from a greenside bunker.
The most impressive golf of Laird's day, however, perhaps came over Bay Hill's final two holes.
Laird got up-and-down for par on the rock-hard par-3 17th, where only 19 of 73 players hit the green in regulation and there were only nine birdies all day. After hitting into the rough on the 18th, Laird played to the front of the green and two-putted from 87 feet.
"I walked onto that green and I was taking nothing for granted," Laird said.
Last year, that wasn't the case. Laird needed a two-putt to win from a similar distance on the final hole of The Barclays. He three-putted and lost to Matt Kuchar in a playoff.
Ever since then, Laird has been building toward this. He finished second again two months later, losing another playoff, this time in Las Vegas, before tying for third in Malaysia with a final-round 66.
In Laird's last two starts this season, he tied for 10th at TPC Blue Monster at Doral and tied for fifth in Tampa.
"When I was three down, I didn't have a choice. I had to start playing some golf."
-- Martin Laird
Entering the final round at Bay Hill, he easily could have faded to another top-10 finish. Laird knew he was off his game the last four holes of the third round and he didn't hit it great warming up on the range.
So he did what Woods, who was nowhere near contending, has done a million times before.
"I knew it wasn't going to be a day I was going to go out and just kind of flush it and have perfect control of my irons," Laird admitted. "I knew it was going to be a day [that] I had to fight hard."
In fact, that's what Laird's been doing most of his career. Growing up in Scotland, he came to college in the U.S. with a trap-draw swing borne out of years of playing in the wind in Scotland.
That doesn't exactly fly here, of course, so after graduating from Colorado State in 2004, Laird decided to stay in the U.S.
The decision benefitted him enormously as he learned to hit the ball high, something that was necessary Sunday at Bay Hill. Just ask Spencer Levin.
The experience of The Barclays and the other near-misses was also critical.
"I've let a few tournaments go," Laird said. "I wasn't coming out [Sunday] morning all laughing and joking and smiling. I was out here to win this tournament."
Sounds familiar, doesn't it?