Laird ties course mark to win in Texas

Martin Laird has spent the last six months on the driving range

looking for answers to his struggling game.

The Scottish golfer finally found what he was looking for, and

then some on Sunday — winning the Texas Open with a

final-round 9-under par 63 to overcome a resurgent Rory McIlroy and

some of the world’s best along the way.

Laird, who entered the week 161st on the money list, tied the

course record with his bogey-free effort. He punctuated the overall

14-under effort with birdies on the final three holes, earning a

trip to next week’s Masters and plenty of confidence in a recent

swing change along the way.

“I came in here quietly confident, even though my record this

year has been poor to say the least,” Laird said. “But golf’s a

funny game; doesn’t matter what you did two weeks ago. It turns

around pretty quickly.”

The win was Laird’s third on the PGA Tour, his first since the

Arnold Palmer Invitational in 2011.

He entered the week having missed four of eight cuts this year

following a swing change last September, including a missed cut at

last week’s Houston Open. However, he shot a second-round 65 in

that event after a four-hour range session — providing plenty

of confidence that his game was finally starting to come

together.

It did just that Sunday, and how.

Laird began the day four shots behind leader Billy Horschel, but

he birdied five of his first eight holes to immediately jump into

contention. His 7-foot birdie putt on No. 8 — one of only 22

putts in the round – put him into a tie with Horschel at 10

under.

He then held off a hard-charging McIlroy over the last few

holes, including a stunning up-and-down for birdie out of the

fairway bunker and off the fringe on No. 17. He capped the win with

a 15-foot birdie putt on the par-5 18th.

McIlroy, the world’s No. 2, began the day at 6 under before

posting a 66 to finish two shots back and finish second — his

best finish of the year.

Horschel shot a 1-under 71 to finish in a tie for third with Jim

Furyk and Charley Hoffman.

Furyk eagled the par-5 18th from 104 yards out to jump into

third. The former U.S. Open winner had only four holes of practice

on the Greg Norman-designed Course at TPC on Wednesday before rain

washed him out, but he posted a final-round 69 to close out a

steady week.

Horschel, who led after the second and third rounds, was unable

to match the low rounds of his competitors and finished with a

1-under 71. The Florida native, who was second at last week’s

Houston Open and was borderline defiant earlier in the week about

his chances of competing against former major winners, was seeking

his first PGA Tour win.

“Everyone’s going to have butterflies,” Horschel said. “I don’t

care if it’s Tiger Woods or Joe Schmo at the golf course; you’re

going to have butterflies, and you have to learn how to deal with

it.”

McIlroy, who only entered the tournament late last week, closed

to within a shot of Laird when he sank a 13-foot birdie putt on the

204-yard par-3 16th to reach 11 under.

The former world No. 1 had struggled with his consistency for

much of the year entering the week, but he made seven birdies on

Sunday. It was exactly the kind of competitive final round McIlroy

envisioned when he signed up in advance of next week’s first major

of the year.

He continued to struggle off the tee, hitting just seven of 14

fairways for the third time this week Sunday. However, he needed

only 26 putts – by far his best effort on the greens for the

week.

“I feel like my game’s in really good shape going into next

week,” McIlroy said. “A round like that gives me a nice bit of

confidence.

“I thought if I got to 12 under today that might have been good

enough, but Martin just played too good and holed so many putts. It

was hard to keep up.”

While McIlroy’s primary focus throughout the week was on

preparing for Augusta National, Laird couldn’t have imagined when

the week began that he would join the former world No. 1 next

week.

Laird earned this third straight trip to the Masters with his

win, which he closed out with three straight birdies. That included

the surprising up-and-down on No. 17 and finishing with a 15-foot

putt for birdie on 18 — clinching a share of the course

record, which was set in last year’s opening round by Matt

Every.

He became the first PGA Tour player to earn a trip to the

Masters in the last week before the tournament since Johnson Wagner

won the Houston Open in 2008.

Laird played at Augusta National the last two years following

his win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in 2011, finishing 20th

two years ago and 57th last year.

Well-known name or not, Laird overcame some of the world’s best

on Sunday.

“I know how good Rory is, but it doesn’t matter if it’s Rory or

Jim or Billy, if someone’s behind me making birdies like they were,

I know I’ve got to keep making birdies,” Laird said. “That was a

pretty strong leaderboard at the top there.”