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.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Despite playing his first 11 holes in 5-over par, Martin Laird recovered with two late birdies and clutch pars over the final two holes to earn his second career victory Sunday at Bay Hill.
Laird’s 3-over 75 was the highest winning score in the tournament’s history, eclipsing a 74 shot by Dave Eichelberger in 1980 and Mike Nicolette in 1983.
On a day more befitting a U.S. Open, Bay Hill played nearly 1 1/2 strokes over par in the final round as the leaders steadily went backwards as the wind increased and the greens firmed up throughout the afternoon.
At one point, Laird was passed by Steve Marino, who got to as low as 9 under before giving a shot back on No. 15 and two shots back on the par-3 17th, where his tee shot buried in the bunker.
Meanwhile, Laird fell all the way back to 6 under twice on the back nine before a birdie on No. 15 and another on the 16th.
Marino responded by sticking his approach shot to 8 feet on the 18th hole to set up a birdie to finish with an even-par 72 that got him in the clubhouse ahead of Laird at 7 under.
Leading by one and needing to get up-and-down from the back of the green to save par on the par-3 17th, Laird chipped to 5 feet and sank the putt.
The Scot then came to the 18th hole, where he hit his driver through the fairway and into the rough. Laird was forced to play to the front of the green, leaving himself 87 feet to the hole. He rolled his putt to within a few feet, however, and made the next one for the win.
ORLANDO, Fla. – Martin Laird leads by two shots. How long he does, we’re about to find out.
Steve Marino has a birdie opportunity on 18 after hitting his approach shot to 8 feet. Laird, meanwhile, saw his tee shot on the par-3 17th bounce off the back of the green and he’ll face a difficult up-and-down toward the water.
Laird is bidding to become the first European to win this tournament, while Marino is trying to win on the PGA TOUR for the first time in his career. Stay tuned.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- What a bizarre final round.
Martin Laird, who began the day with a two-shot lead before playing his first 11 holes in 5 over, is suddenly back in the lead at 7 under after a birdie at No. 15.
Steve Marino, meanwhile, has dropped back to 6 under, along with David Toms. They were 9 and 8 under for the tournament at one point Sunday.
Justin Rose and Marc Leishman are both in the clubhouse at 6 under -- and not out of it yet.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- That once two-shot lead Martin Laird had? Gone.
Laird just fell to 8 under after his third bogey of the front nine as he failed to save par from a greenside bunker on No. 9.
At almost the same time, Steve Marino birdied No. 10, where he stuck his approach shot to inside 4 feet before rolling in the putt to get to 2 under on the day and 9 under for the week.
Justin Rose and K.J. Choi might not be out of it either. Both are quickly running out of holes, but both are also 6 under and just three shots back.
David Toms, meanwhile, fell back to 6 under after a double bogey on No. 8, where he was forced to pitch back into the fairway after an errant tee shot then missed the green long on his approach.
It’s been a wild weekend at Bay Hill and that seems to be continuing today. -- Brian Wacker
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Martin Laird has already qualified for the Masters.
Plenty of others behind him on the leaderboard have not, including Spencer Levin, Marc Leishman and Augusta, Ga., native Charles Howell III. All three need a win to get into the field since none of them has a chance to be in the top 50 in the Official World Golf Rankings by Sunday night.
If none of them gets it this week, they’ll have one more opportunity in next week’s Shell Houston Open, where all three are in the field.
Levin, of course, is also trying to win for the first time on the PGA TOUR after a couple of near-misses -- but Augusta National won’t be too far removed from his thoughts.
"It's in the back of my mind for sure," said Levin, who has never played in the Masters. “I'm sure it is for everybody who is in my position and needs a win to get there.”
Howell is trying to get to his hometown event for the first time since 2008 after falling all the way to 149th in the world.
Leishman and Senden are both looking for return invitations to Augusta National, too. Leishman missed the cut last year in his only appearance there, while Senden missed the cut in his two appearances.
Then there’s J.B. Holmes. He’s pretty much the only player who could move inside the top 50 in the World Rankings to qualify for the Masters.
Depending on some other things, it looks like Holmes, who has only played in one Masters, would need to finish fourth or better. He’s currently tied for 16th and 1 under through four holes today. -- Brian Wacker
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Martin Laird leads by two in today’s final round at Bay Hill, where Tiger Woods had a rare early tee time for a Sunday. Can Laird win for the second time in his career on the PGA TOUR, or will Spencer Levin catch him? Or will it be someone like Bubba Watson or Rickie Fowler? The supposed 20-mph winds that were supposed to come today haven’t so far.