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
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."
AUGUSTA, Ga. – We’ve taken a look at the 93 professionals in this week’s field and given each one a momentum level ranking of high, medium or low ( click here for the full momentum chart ).
Among the pros, here’s who we think are the five hottest players heading into this week’s Masters:
1. NICK WATNEY … Won the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship; has made six starts on TOUR this year, and his lowest finish is a tie for 13th at Transitions.
2. MATT KUCHAR … Has finished in the top 10 in six of his eight TOUR starts this year; was a semifinalist at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championships and finished fifth at the Cadillac Championship.
3. PHIL MICKELSON … If you base the momentum level just on a player’s last 36 holes, obviously no player is hotter than Mickelson, who surged to victory last weekend at the Shell Houston Open.
4. LUKE DONALD … Played great in winning the Accenture Match Play Championship and followed with two top-10s in his next two TOUR starts. But is he long enough for Augusta National?
5. MARTIN LAIRD … Tied for 10th at Cadillac Championship; tied for fifth at Transitions; then won Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard in his last start. Hmm, maybe he should be heading this list?
OK, so who do you think has the most momentum going into this week? Is it one of the five players above, or someone else? Fill out the form below and send us your opinion. And don’t forget to check out the full momentum chart on PGATOUR.COM.
By John Schwarb, PGATOUR.COM producer
The allure of the belly putter was on full display at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard, as Martin Laird and Spencer Levin played in the final group all weekend with the longer flatsticks.
Are the unconventional putters a full-fledged trend on TOUR? Maybe not yet, but it’s worth noting that two of the top 30 in the world ranking now play with them – No. 28 Adam Scott (the full split-grip long putter) and Laird, who cracked the top 30 at No. 21 after winning at Bay Hill with a belly putter.
For Levin, the new putter has a complete game-changer. He switched after he secured his 2011 card late last year, and now he has three top-10s in his last six starts.
“When you're playing, you don't really think about it but looking back, I think I've obviously made more putts with it than I was before,” said Levin, who finished T2 in putts per round at Bay Hill.
“Since I got that belly putter, I've definitely noticed I've been making some more mid-range putts. Before with a normal putter, I was always good -- I was always a good short putter but I wasn't a very good 12- to 20-foot putter. (Now) I feel like I'm making a couple more a round, which is I think probably why I'm scoring better for sure.”
Reigning British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen is getting into the act too; check out the Ping belly putter he bought at Augusta National here .
● Speaking of the Masters, world No. 2 Lee Westwood talked Wednesday at the Shell Houston Open about possible changes in his bag for the season’s first major.
“I generally keep the same stuff in, decide last minute whether it's 2-iron or 5 (wood). Augusta is generally 5 because you need to fly the ball in high,” Westwood said. “I've been doing a little bit of work with different bounces on sand irons. It's nice to take a bit of the bounce off the lob wedge at Augusta with the lies you get there and the firmness of the sand in the traps. It's nice to get under the ball a little bit.”
● Tiger Woods went back to his standard Nike VR blades at the Arnold Palmer, taking out the newer-version Nike VR Pro blades he put in the bag at the Chevron World Challenge last year. The VR blades will go to the Masters, too.
As for his continuing putter saga, Woods made an adjustment to the heel-shafted Nike Method that lately has replaced the Scotty Cameron that had been his constant through the years.
“We softened the grooves up to make sure it's not as quick, as I said, and I wanted something more suited for faster greens,” Woods said. “So we softened up the grooves, and it's coming off very similar to my Cameron and releasing obviously how I like it.”
Something more suited for faster greens … hmm. Sounds like a Masters putter.
● Laird won last week with a TaylorMade white driver, but not the more-ballyhooed R11. He used the Burner SuperFast 2.0 while ranking fifth in distance for the week.
“I put that new driver in at Doral three weeks ago, and I’m not someone that changes equipment much,” Laird
said. “I had had my driver before for three years and Taylor Made had been pushing me to try this new one, and I’m glad they did because this thing is unbelievable.”
● K.J. Choi turned heads with the three hybrids he used to finish tied for sixth at Bay Hill (read more here ), but another money club was the Odyssey putter he returned to. Choi’s trademark with putters is the SuperStroke extra-wide grip, said to keep the wrists from breaking down. He used one to win the AT&T National in 2007 and has had it ever since.
● Retief Goosen is going back to the Yes! model putter he used to win two U.S. Opens, our Melanie Hauser writes here .
● PLAYERS champion Tim Clark and others have played with Srixon’s yellow ball, which the company says offers improved visibility , not to mention a distinctive look.
On Twitter, a fan asked Titleist if they would make an orange ProV1 to match Rickie Fowler’s standard Sunday Oklahoma State-inspired outfits. The response: “Highly unlikely!”
● Jack Wulkotte, inducted over the weekend into the Palm Beach County (Fla.) Sports Hall of Fame, owns a pretty significant place in golf history. He was Jack Nicklaus’ personal clubmaker while with MacGregor. That ZT Response putter that Nicklaus won with at the 1986 Masters (and that you’ll hear plenty about over the next week)? Wulkotte put the grip on it. Read his story .
Martin Laird held on to win by one Sunday at Bay Hill. The victory is the second of his career on the PGA TOUR. Want to send him a note of congratulations? Share it here and we’ll pass it along to him.
With his victory Sunday at Bay Hill, Martin Laird moved from 21st to fourth in the FedExCup standings and is only 224 points behind leader Mark Wilson.
Laird’s final-round 75 is also the highest finish by a
winner in the event. The previous high was 74 by Dave
Eichelberger (1980) and Mike Nicolette (1983).
Lard is also just the second player out of 13 to go on to victory this season after holding the 36-hole lead (Jhonattan Vegas was the other).
Should Laird go on to win the Masters, he’d join Fred Couples (1992) and Tiger Woods (2001, 2002) as the only players who have won the Masters and the Arnold Palmer Invitational in the same year.