by Jeff Skinner
It was a great day for Scotland today as two of its own claimed titles on two different continents. Glasgow born Martin Laird hung on to win on the PGA Tour in Florida while Aberdeen native Paul Lawrie won in Spain for his first title since 2002. Laird finished one stroke ahead of Steve Marino after a wild day of golf at The Arnold Palmer Invitational and Lawrie, the 1999 Open Champion won by a stroke over Johan Edfors at The Open de Andalucia. It took Lawrie 232 starts and six second place finishes to finally win his sixth European Tour title.
It was a crazy day at Bay Hill that saw nuclear meltdowns causing the leaders fall back and allowed the other players in the field a chance at the win. The best score among the last six players to tee off even par carded by Steve Marino and David Toms. Spencer Levin started two back of leader Laird but imploded with bogeys on four of his first five holes. Rickie Fowler, five back at the start ballooned to an 78 as did his partner in crime, Bubba Watson who started four back of Laird. Those players may have had little hope of challenging the leaders at the start but after Levin’s disastrous start and Laird stumbling to five over for his round after ten holes, this title was up for grabs.
With the winds blowing, firm greens and pin placements that rivaled a U.S. Open setup, no one could make a charge except for Justin Rose who had a spectacular 31 on the back nine but still fell short by two strokes. Marino, Marc Leishman and K.J. Choi all fell victim to Bay Hill and its bunkers and lakes.
Marino offered the best challenge to Laird but he stumbled with a double bogey on the par three seventeenth. He did put the pressure on Laird when he birdied eighteen which left Laird with only a one stroke lead coming down the last. It was a miracle that Laird was still in the tournament at that point.
After opening with a three over 39 on the front nine he promptly double bogeyed eleven to put him five over for the day and little chance at claiming his second PGA Tour win. Then the Scotsman finally caught a break. With his tee ball in the fairway bunker on the par five twelfth hole he went for broke with a three wood from the sand. His shot actually clipped the top of the bunker and that’s where he got a bit of good fortune. Usually there’s no telling where a shot like that could end up but it wasn’t a problem for Laird as his ball rolled through the green and settled eighteen feet from the hole. He converted for a birdie on a hole that could have ended his chances. He gave that shot back with a bogey at fourteen but with consecutive birds on fifteen and sixteen he got to three over for the day and eight under for the tournament. He still needed help from Marino and he got it when Marino doubled seventeen.
Laird must have been pumped because he killed his drive on eighteen which traveled 330 yards and rolled into the rough. After a safe, smart play away from the pin he two putted from over eighty feet to finally end his roller coaster of a round and claim Arnie’s tournament.
Laird, who played college golf at Colorado State, became the first European player to win at Arnold’s Bay Hill Invitational. It was a storybook win considering his start and the fact that he was three strokes off the lead with four holes to play. He’ll get to continue his fairytale in two weeks when he tees it up at The Masters.