Laird looks to the manner born in claiming Scottish birthright - Golf - Sport - The Independent

Laird looks to the manner born in claiming Scottish birthright

First European to win at Bay Hill sets sights on Augusta – and on restoring his country's reputation

Next stop Augusta for the Scotsman who is daring to re-drape the tartan over the world scene. Martin Laird heads into his Masters debut not only buoyed by the confidence of Sunday's victory in Arnold Palmer's Invitational but also by the knowledge that the National course is eminently suited to his game.

The sport at large is now aware of it, too, after Laird became the first European to win at Bay Hill. It was the 28-year-old's second success on the PGA Tour, but, coming in one of America's marquee events, it transported him into a different league.

Laird is on the brink of the world's top 20 and being mentioned in some quarters as an attractive bet to fill the 32-year void back to Fuzzy Zoeller, the last golfer to prevail at the Masters on his first visit. Neither Laird's form – this was his third top-five finish and fourth top-10 from his last five strokeplay tournaments – nor his comments will put off anyone tempted by the 66-1.

"I played Augusta earlier in the month," he said. "I'd never been there before and loved it. It does set up pretty good for me with my length and hitting the ball high. And, obviously, putting is probably the strongest part of my game right now. That's really what it all comes down to coming down the stretch at Augusta. I can't wait to get there."

His country can't wait for his challenge, either. Scotland, that is. If there was any doubt where Laird's allegiances might lie after spending the last 11 years in America since leaving Glasgow as a 17-year-old, this graduate of Colorado State University soon dispelled them. Laird was quick to pay homage to Paul Lawrie, the former Open champion who also won on Sunday in Spain.

"It's no secret that Scottish golf has been down for a few years after the end of Monty's [Colin Montgomerie's] dominance," he said. "But we have got a lot of good players and just need to get up there and get experience. To have two wins in one day is massive."

Laird's own passage of experience may inspire a few young countrymen. "I never wanted to come over, but did and loved it straight away," said Laird, who did not even visit America before signing up. "I obviously don't regret the decision."

He went on to describe how he arrived in Arizona with a typically low Scottish ball-flight, groomed on the windy links. But then, over the years he learnt, in his own words, "to hit it into orbit". The gradual swing changes helped him become one of the longest on the US collegiate circuit and the improvement has been inexorable ever since. Through the mini-tours, on to the Challenge Tour, on to the PGA Tour, now into the more prestigious of winners' enclosures.

Laird's putting was the last piece in the jigsaw, a visit to Dave Stockton Jnr last year transforming what had been the weakest part of his game. His burgeoning confidence was seen to startling effect as he stood over a 90-footer on the last with two putts to scoop the £675,000 cheque.

By then, during a torrid final day, he had lost a three-shot lead, recovered to re-establish a two-shot lead, before seeing it threatened again. "You could tell how much it meant to me," he said. "That was a battle all day. And it almost makes it more sweet to win it the way I did. A couple of years ago, I wouldn't have believed I could win an event like this. It's huge."

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