Daily Wrap-up: Round 4, Arnold Palmer Invitational

March 27, 2011
Staff and wire reports

ORLANDO, Fla. -- All that stood between Martin Laird and victory at Bay Hill were two putts from just inside 90 feet on the 18th hole, which didn't seem all that long considering what he already had been through Sunday.


First came a stunning collapse that took him from a three-shot lead to a three-shot deficit in a span of seven holes. He was three shots behind when he walked off the 14th green, two shots ahead as he headed to the 17th tee.

Laird knocked the first putt up to 3 feet, then jabbed his fist when he rolled in the par putt to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

"That was a hell of a day," Laird said. "That was a tough fight out there. It was a battle out there, but you know, it makes it even sweeter at the end when I got this trophy."

In the toughest final round on the PGA TOUR this year, Laird was strong at the end with two birdies and two clutch pars to close with a 3-over 75, the highest final round by a winner in the 33-year history at Bay Hill.

That two-putt par on the 18th was just enough for a one-shot victory over hard-luck Steve Marino, who lost three shots on two plugged lies in bunkers over the last four holes. Marino followed a double bogey on the par-3 17th with an all-or-nothing shot over the water at the flag to 8 feet on the last hole for birdie and a 72.

"You just cannot afford to (waste) shots in the final round -- really, at any point in the tournament -- if you want to win," Marino said after his third close call this year. "Unfortunately on 17, that's exactly what I did. It came back to bite me."

Laird, a 28-year-old from Scotland who came to America to play college golf and never left, became the first European to win at Bay Hill. He now heads off to the Masters for the first major of the year, having felt like he just won one.

Considering all the calamity, it felt as though the U.S. Open have moved from June to March. No one in the last three groups broke par, and those six players were a combined 19-over par.

It was a day of survival.

For Laird, it turned out to be a remarkable revival.

When he pulled his approach from a fairway bunker into the water on No. 11 and made double bogey, he already was 5 over for the round. But while he lost the lead, he never lost hope.

"I never thought about not winning," Laird said. "When I saw I was three down, I didn't have a choice. I had to start playing some good golf. I had to make birdies. Steve was playing too good. That was really the focus. It was trying to get this trophy."

First came a handshake and congratulations from Palmer, the tournament host.

"It really doesn't get any better than to meet him coming off as the champion of his tournament," Laird said.

Laird needed some help from Marino, who played beautifully until the last four holes.

Marino went at the flag on the 15th, tucked right behind the bunker, and his ball plugged in the soft sand. He blasted out to 35 feet and made bogey. Then came the 17th, and a 6-iron that he thought was good all the way until the crowd groaned.

He blasted out over the green, putted up the slope to 5 feet and missed the bogey putt.

"I played so well all day, and you know, one hiccup on 17 cost me the tournament," he said.

Justin Rose closed with a 68 and tied for third with David Toms and Marc Leishman, who needed to win to get into the Masters.

Tiger Woods, a six-time winner at Bay Hill, was poised for a second straight top 10 until he made bogey from the bunker on the 17th and hit his approach into the water on No. 18 for double bogey and a 72. In his final tournament before the Masters, Woods tied for 24th, seven shots behind. Phil Mickelson dropped three shots on the last five holes for a 73 to also finish in a tie for 24th.

Shot of the Day

In the final round, Martin Laird holes a 17-foot birdie putt on the par-5 16th hole to take the lead.

Laird won for the second time in his PGA TOUR career, and the record will show that he won for the first time in three tries when going into the final round atop the leaderboard.

But it wasn't that simple. Not even close.

Palmer prefers a stern test at his beloved Bay Hill, and that's what he got, especially in the afternoon when the wind picked up and the course dried out even more under a hot sun.

"The back-nine pins, they are all bogey and double-bogey pins -- they are not birdie pins," Mickelson said when he finished. "The last eight holes are holes that you have to play 50 feet away if you're playing smart."

Laird finished at 8-under 280, the highest winning score since Ben Crenshaw shot 280 in 1993. Laird earned $1.08 million, and a validation after tough playoff losses at The Barclays and at the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas late last year.

Spencer Levin, who played in the final group and started two shots behind, shot 41 on the front nine and still was in the game toward the end. He wound up with a 76 and tied for sixth.

Laird got off to such a shaky start that it only took an hour for more players to have a chance than who started the final round. He made three bogeys to go out in 39 and was tied with Marino when he headed to the back nine.

Then came more twists than he was expecting.

"No one is going to take a 75 going into the last round of a tournament," Laird said. "but I knew it was going to be this tough to win."

Woods played a solid round until his bogey-double bogey finish. Bay Hill completes a full year since his return from personal problems, with not much to show for it -- no wins, only three top 10s on the PGA TOUR and not once in serious contention on the back nine.

Next stop: Augusta National.

Such is the state of his game that the six-time Bay Hill winner called this a "very good week, and a week I needed to see."

Bay Hill: Sunday
The par-5 16th hole was the easiest with a Sunday scoring average of 4.493.
The par-4 8th hole was the toughest with a Sunday scoring average of 4.370.
About the winner: Martin Laird
• Laird carried a two-stroke lead into the final round and then posted a 3-over 75 to finish one stroke ahead of Steve Marino at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Laird's rollercoaster final round included three birdies, four bogeys, a double bogey and a two putt for par from 86 11 on the final hole for the win.
• Laird's 75 is the highest finish by a winner on the PGA TOUR since Trevor Immelman won the 2008 Masters Tournament with a 3-over 75. It is the highest in a non-Major since Peter Lonard won the 2005 Heritage with a 4-over 75.
• Laird's 75 is the highest finish by a winner at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. The previous high was a 74, turned in by Dave Eichelberger (1980) and Mike Nicolette (1983).
• The previous-high finish by a winner this season: 70 (Rory Sabbatini, The Honda Classic).
• Laird, a native of Glasgow, Scotland, becomes the first European winner of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He is just the fourth international-born player to win, joining South African Ernie Els (1998 and 2010), Australian Rod Pampling (2006) and Vijay Singh of Fiji (2007).
• Laird, a 2007 graduate of the Nationwide Tour, records the 300th win on the PGA TOUR by a former Nationwide Tour player.
• The win is the second of Laird's career (2009 Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open). It moves him to No. 4 in the current FedExCup standings.
• Laird is now one for three when holding the 54-hole lead on TOUR. In both of his previous 54-hole leads, he eventually lost in a playoff. He led by three strokes after 54 holes at the 2010 Barclays before a final-round 71 led to a playoff loss to Matt Kuchar. Later in 2010, he carried a one-stroke lead into the final round of the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open before a final-round 69 led to a playoff loss to Jonathan Byrd.
• Laird now has four top-10 finishes in eight starts this season, including three consecutive (T10-WGC-Cadillac Championship, T5-Transitions Championship, 1st-Arnold Palmer Invitational).
• Laird finished 74th in his only other start at the Arnold Palmer Invitational (2010).
• Laird is hoping to 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, dating to the start of the Invitational in 1966.

"It's getting better every week I've played," he said.