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March 20 2012

8:24 PM

Bay Hill built Laird's confidence

Interview: Martin Laird

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."

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