PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- A couple of notes about co-leaders Ian Poulter and Martin Laird to set up today’s second round:
-- Poulter had not held a first-round lead/co-lead on TOUR in 139 previous starts.
-- Poulter has made all six of his cuts on TOUR this season. Both of his top-10 finishes this season have come in his last two starts (he finished third at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard and seventh at the Masters).
-- Poulter is making his ninth start at THE PLAYERS this week. His best finish is a runner-up in 2009. Only twice -- in 2010 and 2005 -- has he missed the cut.
-- Poulter’s previous low round at THE PLAYERS was a 67 in the first round in 2009.
-- Poulter’s round Thursday? It was his 450th on TOUR.
-- This is Laird’s third career first-round lead/co-lead on TOUR.
-- The two other times he held or shared the lead after the first round -- at the 2008 Wyndham Championship and 2011 Northern Trust Open -- he went on to finish fourth and first, respectively.
-- Laird is looking to join Sandy Lyle (1987) as the only players from Scotland to win THE PLAYERS.
-- Laird is making his fourth start at TPC Sawgrass (he tied for 71st in 2009, missed the cut in 2010 and tied for 69th in 2011).
-- Laird’s 65 was his first round in the 60s in nine previous rounds at THE PLAYERS, and it was the only bogey-free round of the day.
Following his opening-round 65, Martin Laird reflects on his play with Fred Albers from SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- A new caddy and renewed confidence in his putter helped lift Martin Laird into a share of the lead after the first round of THE PLAYERS Championship.
Laird was the only player to traverse the Stadium Course without a bogey on Thursday. The 65 he ended up shooting left the Scotsman tied with Ian Poulter, one stroke ahead of Blake Adams and two up on Kevin Na and Ben Crane.
"Obviously very happy with my round today," said Laird, who had never broken 70 in nine previous rounds at the Stadium Course and never finished higher than a tie for 69th in three starts there. "Going bogey free anywhere is good, but around this golf course it feels extremely satisfying."
Laird, who came into the week ranked 119th in strokes-gained putting, took just 12 putts on each side on Thursday, too, which left him tied for fourth in that statistical category. He's been working on his putting with Dave Stockton Jr. and the effort he's put in paid dividends in the first round.
"The whole thing they work with is trying not to care on your putts," Laird said. "I consciously have been doing that the last couple weeks, not trying to try too hard because I know I haven't putted well here before -- just have a quick look, see what you think the line is and let it go. Don't study it too much and don't think about it too much."
Laird says he's also benefitted from having a new caddy on his bag, a good friend from Australia named Shay Knight, who used to work for Laird's buddy, Matt Jones. The two started working together last week at the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, where both now make their home and Laird tied for 26th.
"We've been friends for years, and I have him now on the bag, and it was kind of nice to be out on the course and be able to chat away to someone that's my age and is like a friend as opposed to a caddie," Laird said. "Not saying my old caddie and I weren't friends, it's just a little different when it's someone you've been friends with anyway. And he think that's definitely helped keep me a little more relaxed on the golf course, and it feeds through all parts of your game down to your putting."
According to course superintendent Matt Beaver, the rough is expected to top out at 3-1/2 inches this week, with the thick turf remaining the course’s biggest weapon.
"You hit the ball in the rough, and it makes it pretty tough," Beaver said.
But that fact shouldn't deter the big hitters this week in the Arnold Palmer Invitational. In year's past, the big hitters have thrived: the recent winner's list includes Martin Laird, Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, Kenny Perry and Phil Mickelson. Not exactly a bunch of Corey Pavins.
How do the big hitters do so well at Bay Hill? Real simple. They tend to eat up Bay Hill's four par-5s, and with scoring at a premium (8 under won last year), birdies on par-5s are even more valuable.
No one was better on the par-5s last year than Laird, who led the field with 18 birdies on the way to victory last year. He made 10 birdies (plus an eagle) on the par-5s, and won by a single shot.
Laird's 12 under par on the par-5s was nine shots better than the field average of 3 under, and he was the only player (besides Bubba Watson) to go for every par-5 in two.
Here's how Laird won last year at Bay Hill:
|Stat||Laird rank||Laird stat||Field average|
|Greens in Regulation||T20th||68.06 percent||61.88 percent|
|Going for the green (Par-5s)||T1||100 percent||45.90 percent|
|Strokes Gained - Putting||26th||.687||N/A|
|Putting from - 10-15'||5th||55.56 percent||27.81 percent|
|Par 5 Birdie or Better Pct||1st||68.75 percent||36.78 percent|
The defending champion meets the media on Tuesday at Bay Hill Club and Lodge.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
ORLANDO -- The handshake and the words of congratulations from Arnold Palmer are a bit of a blur now.
"Never even shook his hand before and all of a sudden he's there awarding me the trophy for winning his tournament," Martin Laird marveled on Tuesday, some 360 days later.
Laird does remember telling Palmer that Bay Hill was very challenging in the final round, though. "He kind of smiled and said, 'That's the way like it,'" reported the Scotsman, who hung on for the victory despite closing with a 75.
Laird took a two-stroke lead into the final round that Sunday but played his first 11 holes in 5 over to trail by three strokes. Birdies on the 15th and 16th holes gave him an advantage he would not relinquish -- but the win was not assured until Laird got up and down for par at the 17th and two-putted from 87 feet for another at the 18th hole.
Laird, who came to the United States to play golf at Colorado State and now lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., has enjoyed getting reacquainted with Bay Hill this week. Well, maybe not with the 11th hole, where he hit his second shot from the fairway bunker into the water on the way to a double bogey that career-defining Sunday -- but the last four holes were clutch.
"I could probably tell you exactly where I hit it on every hole for that last round," Laird said. "But the last four, I really remember, I think it's because I tried to block out the first ten or 11 holes which weren't so good. …
"I really didn't hit a bad shot the last four holes, and birdied two of them. The way the course was set up ... it's almost more satisfying winning that way rather than playing great and cruising around and winning by two or three.
"It's a little nicer to know I can dig it out when I didn't have my game."
Laird's 2012 campaign has been something of a mixed bag.
He missed the cut last week at the Transitions Championship but started the year with a solo second at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions after closing with a 67. He also tied for fifth at the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship, losing to Lee Westwood in the quarterfinals.
The 29-year-old is hoping the weekend off – not to mention, the good memories at Bay Hill -- will help him regain some momentum.
"I feel like it helped me a little this week, having a couple of days away from golf, just kind of relaxing,” Laird said. “Put in a lot of hard work yesterday … and (I’m) feeling like my game is coming back around really nicely."
All interviews will be streamed live on PGATOUR.COM.
Wednesday, March 21
Arnold Palmer, 10 a.m. ET
Justin Rose, after pro-am
Ryo Ishikawa, 11:30 a.m. ET
MARANA, Ariz. -- Martin Laird was 16 years old when Paul Lawrie came from 10 shots off the pace to beat Jean van de Velde and win the British Open in 1999.
Shortly afterwards Lawrie gave a clinic and held a Q&A session for the Scottish National team. Lawrie's friend Adam Hunter was the coach and a teenage Laird was a member of the team.
In an interesting twist of fate, on Friday, more than a decade later, Lawrie and Laird will meet in the third round of the Accenture Match Play Championship. Their match tees off at 1:26 p.m. ET.
"I remember looking up to him then thinking this is where I want to go," recalled Laird, who ended up going to college at Colorado State and settling in Scottsdale, Ariz. "I want to be holding the trophy like he is. And it's kind of funny now I'm playing him tomorrow right here in Arizona."
Lawrie has played some practice rounds with Laird, who won his first PGA TOUR event last year at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard. But he doesn't remember his fellow Scot from among the three dozen or so eager youngsters he met with way back in 1999.
"He mentioned that to me when we played nine holes a couple of years ago," Lawrie said."... Adam had asked me to come along and chat with the boys. I don't remember Martin. There was obviously about 30 boys there, but he did tell me the story. I'm a bit older than him, obviously."
The 43-year-old veteran hasn't played in the Accenture Match Play Championship since 2003. He enters the World Golf Championships event ranked 45th in the world and is playing extremely well with a win in Qatar and two other top-10s in four starts this season
"I'm looking forward to it," Lawrie said. "Obviously Martin has been playing good, and he's ahead of me in the world ranking (at No. 40), so he's the favorite. I'm looking forward to it. It should be good."
The 29-year-old Laird agreed.
"I like this golf course," he said. "I feel very comfortable
with desert golf. I was disappointed last year, I played well
and got beat by a better player on the day. So I've been
looking forward to getting back here this year.
"I played well the first two rounds, and I had to. It doesn't really matter who you've got, when you've got the top 64 players in the world you've got to play good to win. My game is looking good and I'm looking forward to the rest of the week."
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
KAPALUA, Hawaii -- By his own admission, Martin Laird didn't have a very good putting day in the second round of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. But on the putting green after his round, he found something in his stroke ... and it paid quick dividends in Sunday's third round at the Plantation Course.
According to the Strokes Gained-Putting stats, Laird picked up 2.770 strokes on the field Sunday after giving up 3.258 strokes on Saturday.
Laird said he was pushing his putts and had the ball too far up in his stance when he was putting into the grain. Once he moved back, "the ball started coming out straighter," he said.
The Scotsman was a bogey-free 4 under on his round through the first 10 holes, needing just 15 putts during that stretch. He bounced back from his only bogey of the day, at the par-3 11th, with three birdies in the next five holes.
Laird will be playing with Webb Simpson in the group right ahead of Stricker, who'll play with defending champ Jonathan Byrd. He knows the task of catching Stricker is daunting ... but not impossible.
"I don't know what it will take but I'm guessing a minimum of 8 under, probably," Laird said. "I can't imagine him shooting much higher than 70. So it's going to be an interesting day."
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
KAPALUA, Hawaii -- Martin Laird grew up in Scotland, which means he grew up playing golf in the wind.
But Laird left Scotland 11 years ago to play college golf in the U.S. at Colorado State, and he's stayed over here ever since. So don't get the impression that the windy conditions at Kapalua left him feeling comfortable on Friday.
It was very good on Friday, though, especially in the final seven holes, as he produced five birdies to finish his round at 5-under 68. When he walked off the course, he had a share of the clubhouse lead with Michael Bradley, although defending champ Jonathan Byrd was still on the course at 6 under.
Laird said he and swing coach Mark McCann found something while working together at the Chevron World Challenge that allow him to play better in the wind. Instead of having a closed-face on his backswing, Laird now fans it open, allowing him to set his wrists earlier than before and giving him better control the club face.
"It's a strange feeling for me," said Laird, who won the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard to earn entry in this week's field. "I've always been a shut-faced player. ... But it's been working, so it starts to feel good pretty quickly when the results are good."
The key for Laird's resurgence on the back nine, however, had more to do with his putting than his wind play. He said he started to leave himself longer uphill putts instead of shorter -- but trickier -- downhill putts.
"I didn't hit it any better on the back nine," Laird said. "It's just where I left myself -- below the hole more than having breaking putts."