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."
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
AKRON, Ohio -- Martin Laird didn't know quite what to expect at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational.
After all, he had only played nine holes in the last two weeks, and hitting balls wasn't on the agenda, either. Laird didn’t even have any idea who won the two PGA TOUR events played during that stretch until he turned on a computer several days later.
Turns out, the layoff from competition might have been just what the newlywed needed. He fired a 67 on Friday to move to 7 under for the tournament and one stroke off the lead held by Ryan Moore, Adam Scott and Rickie Fowler.
"(I) came into this week and feeling fresh and on a high after getting married," the Scotsman said. "Sometimes you come in here and it's amazing when you have no expectations how well you play."
Laird said about 39 members of his family and friends came over from the UK for the wedding and it was something of a week-long celebration. And at one point on Thursday he looked at the leaderboard and in addition to his name were Jason Day and Nick Watney, both of whom attended the festivities last weekend.
"So it was either just the clear mountain air or everybody had a good time on Saturday, who knows?" Laird said with a grin.
Laird said the wedding went off without a hitch, no pun intended. It was an outdoor affair, and the weather was perfect -- although if the nuptials had been held 24 hours later they would have been greeted by thunderstorms.
True to his heritage, Laird was married in a kilt, a Campbell Tartan, which is his mom's maiden name. And no knock on Akron, but in case anyone was wondering, there will be a proper honeymoon in October after the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup have ended.
With two months to go before the first tee shot is struck in the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup, much remains to be sorted out.
The top 125 players in the FedExCup standings are eligible to begin the four-event Playoffs series at The Barclays, which will be held Aug. 25-28 at Plainfield Country Club in Edison, N.J. A year ago, it took 380 points to make the field for The Barclays – and a total of 83 players have already earned that many points in 2011.
Seven rookies are among those 83 -- including Masters champion Charl Schwartzel (No. 19); HP Byron Nelson Championship winner Keegan Bradley (No. 22); Bob Hope Classic winner Jhonattan Vegas (No. 24); Valero Texas Open winner Brendan Steele (No. 31); Robert Karlsson, who recently lost in a sudden-death playoff to Harrison Frazar at the FedEx St. Jude Classic; Chris Kirk (No. 50), who tied for second at the Shell Houston Open; and Kevin Chappell (No. 61), who tied for third last week at the U.S. Open.
Another rookie, Scott Stallings, is knocking on the door as well. at No. 84 in the standings.
The history of the FedExCup has shown that it takes more than just qualifying for the Playoffs to make a run at the title and the $10 million bonus, though. In the four previous season-long competitions, only three rookies total have managed to qualify for the Playoffs and advance to the finale at the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola: Marc Leishman (2009); Andres Romero (2008); and Brandt Snedeker (2007). All three went on to win Rookie of the Year that season.
Of the players who were in the FedExCup top 30 entering The Barclays in 2010, all but eight continued their strong play through the Playoffs and advanced to the TOUR Championship. And while all 30 players at the TOUR Championship will have a mathematical chance to win the FedExCup, the top five in the standings control their own destiny and can win the FedExCup with a victory in Atlanta. So position in the FedExCup standings entering the Playoffs is key.
With that in mind, Bubba Watson could regain the No. 1 position the FedExCup this week at the Travelers Championship, where he won his first PGA TOUR title last year. Watson, currently No. 2, is only 38 points behind leader Luke Donald, who is idle this week. Watson gained the FedExCup lead in May when he won the Zurich Classic of New Orleans and held it for five weeks, until Donald took over when he tied for seventh at the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance.
Of the other players in the current top 20 who are competing at the Travelers Championship, Nick Watney (No. 6), David Toms (No. 8), Brandt Snedeker (No. 12), Martin Laird (No. 15), Webb Simpson (No. 16), Aaron Baddeley (No. 17) and Hunter Mahan (No. 18) could take over the FedExCup lead this week. All but Watney and Toms would need a win to do so.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Seven of the top 10 in the current FedExCup standings are competing at the Wells Fargo Championship. Bubba Watson currently leads in points, but six others have the opportunity to replace him at No. 1 entering THE PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP next week.
Mark Wilson would take over No. 1 with a victory even if Watson is runner-up, while the other five chasing Watson would need Watson to finishing lower once the final results are determined Sunday afternoon.
With a victory, these players can move to No. 1 in FedExCup standings:
No. 3 Mark Wilson -- Moves to No. 1 with a win regardless of Watson’s finish; moves to No. 1 with a finish of T4 or better if Watson misses the cut; additional scenarios also could play out depending on how both players finish
If No. 4 Phil Mickelson wins …. Watson would have to finish in a two-way tie for second or lower
If No. 5 Martin Laird wins … Watson would have to finish third or lower
If No. 6 Gary Woodland wins … Watson would have to finish third or lower
If No. 7 Nick Watney wins … Watson would have to finish third or lower
If No. 10 Webb Simpson wins … Watson would have to finish 12 th or lower
CLICK HERE FOR THE LATEST FEDEXCUP STANDINGS
FEDEXCUP: Complete Standings | Weekly Leaders | More FedExCup notesBy Chris Dunham, PGATOUR.COM Editorial Coordinator There aren’t many, if any, players on TOUR playing better than Martin Laird. In his nine 2011 starts, he’s made eight cuts and has one other finish outside the top 25 – and that wasn’t even a stroke play event. His four starts since the calendar turned to March have resulted in finishes of T10, T5, 1st and a T20 at Augusta. He’s moved from 32nd to fourth in the FedExCup standings in the process. With a top-3 finish this week in Texas, Laird would overtake FedExCup leader Mark Wilson, who has held the top position for the last 10 weeks. Bob Hope Classic champion Jhonattan Vegas is currently 12th in the standings and is the only other player in the Valero Texas Open field with a chance of overtaking Wilson. MASTERFUL MOVERS: Masters winner Charl Schwartzel was the week’s biggest mover, jumping 67 spots from 77th to No. 10. The top 10 saw a couple other changes with Luke Donald moving from 13th to 7th and Laird moving up a spot to No. 4, pushing Nick Watney to 5th. Adam Scott and Jason Day, who both tied for second at Augusta National, each moved up more than 40 spots and into the top 30 – Scott to No. 29 and Day to No. 24. Scott won the Valero Texas Open last year and, based on his strong Sunday at Augusta, looks like he will continue to climb the standings this week. NOTABLE DROPS: With two new faces moving into the top 10, D.A. Points and Jhonattan Vegas have bowed out. Points went from 10th to 13th and Vegas from 9th to 12th after both missed the cut last week at Augusta. Just two players dropped outside the coveted top 125 positions last week. Arjun Atwal (124th to 126th) and Michael Connell (125th to 127th) as Robert Karlsson and Angel Cabrera each moved inside the 125-man cut line. MORE ON LAST WEEK’S WINNER: TOUR rookie Charl Schwartzel notched his first-career PGA TOUR victory when he won the Masters, but the 26-year-old South African is no stranger to winning golf tournaments. He’d won seven European Tour and Sunshine Tour events since 2004, including the last two Joburg Opens in his native South Africa. In addition to moving to No. 10 in the FedExCup standings, Schwartzel jumped to No. 11 in the Official World Golf Ranking and regained the top spot in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.
By John Schwarb, PGATOUR.COM Site Producer
Sounds like the most incongruous of golf pairings, but it wasn’t far from coming to fruition Sunday at Augusta – the Green Jacket and the long putter.
Adam Scott fell a little short of capturing his first major at Augusta National, but if he had it would have also
Tim Clark used one to win THE PLAYERS Championship last year and finished second with one in the 2006 Masters. Nick O’Hern and Scott McCarron also use long putters. Belly putters are even more prevalent, as we saw last month with Martin Laird and Spencer Levin using them while battling for the Arnold Palmer Invitational title.
When Jack Nicklaus won his signature sixth Green Jacket with an oversized-head Response ZT putter, the public bought thousands in the days afterward. Might the same thing have happened if Scott had won with his 49-inch Scotty Cameron Studio Select Kombi? Who knows.
But don’t expect to see Scott with anything else anytime soon. He put one in the bag earlier this year at the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship and it has more than earned its place.
“After I saw some putts going in, it wasn't really hard to change,” Scott said. “The rhythm with the long putter is very nice, and that's something I was fighting in my putting with the short putter. So I started practicing with it, and the more I practiced with it, the better it felt and the more putts I made and eventually it was a pretty easy decision that I should give it a run.”
Scott tied for third at the Masters and had 111 putts over four days, which tied him for third in the field behind Luke Donald and the winner, Charl Schwartzel.
MORE BELLY TALK: World No. 2 Lee Westwood couldn’t hide his disgust with his work on the greens at Augusta and went to a belly putter for the final round. The 2010 runner-up finished tied for 11th, shooting 74-70 for the weekend after a Friday 67 moved him into contention.
“To come so close last year and get myself in good shape this year and then, on the greens, it just makes me feel like pulling my hair out,” Westwood said. “I felt a little more comfortable (Sunday) with the belly putter. At least I made one 15-footer.”
Westwood added that he “didn’t see any future in the short (putter) for a while.”
ANOTHER TIGER PUTTER?: OK, maybe not yet. But this photo from his trip to China this week is amusing. Look closely and you’ll see Woods practicing a long-putter stroke with a standard-length putter.
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM Managing Editor
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Martin Laird came into this week with one of the hottest hands on the PGA TOUR. He's definitely heating up at Augusta National.
Laird carded his second consecutive 3-under 69 and will enter Sunday's final round at 4 under for the tournament. Not bad for the Masters rookie.
Although he'll probably have too much of a hill to climb Sunday (depending on how the leaders play the rest of Saturday, of course), he at least should have a fighting chance. He left the 18th green Saturday in a tie for 12th.
If nothing else, he has plenty of momentum.
"If I keep shooting in the 60s, I'll keep going the correct way up the leaderboard," Laird said. "Obviously pleased with shooting 3 under, but obviously a little frustrated that it wasn't lower today."
Laird's last start prior to coming to the Masters was a win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard. He had two other top-10 finishes before that. He's currently in fifth place in FedExCup points.
Laird nearly aced the par-3 16th. Instead, he settled for an easy birdie, his fourth of the day.
"It was a perfect number," Laird said. "I hit 8 iron and I knew that to get it there I had to just smash it and I hit it as good as I could. And it's a nice pin to know you can't hit it over, so it let me go for it."