Laird's brave fightback adds the shine to Lawrie win for Scotland
Monday 28 March 2011
The demise of Scottish golf has clearly been greatly exaggerated. Last night the birthplace of the ancient game was celebrating a spectacular Sunday as Martin Laird followed up Paul Lawrie's victory in Spain with a remarkable win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Florida.
It was Laird's second title on the PGA Tour, but was by far the most prestigious. The 28-year-old was the first European to prevail at the event and thus the first European to be greeted as the champion off the final green by "The King" – Palmer, himself. It is fair to say Laird's victory was achieved in bizarre fashion as a final-round 75 was enough for the glory. However, the stats do not begin to tell the story of such a courageous fightback.
The Bay Hill course in Orlando was set up in a brutal fashion for the final, as the ensuing havoc proved. Beginning at 11-under, Laird held a two-shot lead but this was quickly extended to three. But then, with three bogeys and a double bogey in the first 11 holes saw him fall three behind Steve Marino. The clubhouse surely could not come soon enough for the Glaswegian who has been based in America since attending college in Colorado.
But Marino is an erratic campaigner and Laird gripped on. Even so, when he was joined by those such as England's Justin Rose (who fired a brilliant inward five-under 31 for a 68) and Australia's Mark Leishman he was all but forgotten on the leaderboard. Then came the drama. Marino bogeyed the 16th and double-bogeyed the 17th after twice plugging in bunkers while Laird birdied both the 15th and 16th, the latter with a curling downhill 15-footer. Suddenly Laird had a two-shot lead. Yet still it was not over.
Marino somehow composed himself to birdie the treacherous 18th. Laird needed a par to become the first Scot to win twice in America since Sandy Lyle in the Eighties. He found the green in two, but was over 60 feet away. No worries. Laird rolled it up to four putt and coolly drilled in the trophy-raiser. Cue the fist pump and widespread fame for this big-hitter, whose game seems made for The Masters at Augusta, where he will make his debut next week.
"After the double I said to my caddie it wasn't over," said Laird, who also laid the ghost of bogeying the 18th when in the lead at The Barclays last year. "I knew I could come back and it doesn't get much better than this. I'd never met Mr Palmer before. What a way to do it." With Rose tying for third this was yet another memorable American tournament for the British. The season's opening major cannot come soon enough."
Tiger Woods shot a 72 for a one-under total that scraped him inside the top 30. It probably says much about where he is at the moment, as he rebuilds his swing and his life, that he declared himself content with a performance that finished bogey, double-bogey.
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