Bay Hill victory in hand, Laird can't wait to fly Scottish flag at Masters

martin laird
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A Scottish flag flew proudly behind the 17th tee at Bay Hill Sunday, and Martin Laird will see his native banner flying in the breeze at Augusta National next week.
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PA Sport

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With a second win on the PGA Tour now under his belt, Scotland's Martin Laird is turning his thoughts to trying to do something achieved just once since 1935.

Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 is the only player to have won the Masters title in his debut in all those years, but fresh from his dramatic Arnold Palmer Invitational victory, Laird simply cannot wait for next week.

The 28-year-old from Glasgow, who has based himself in the United States since his college days, had his first look at Augusta National two weeks ago.

"Loved the golf course," he said. "I feel like it really does set up pretty good for me with hitting it high.

"And I know those greens will get real firm (as they were at Bay Hill),” he added. “Obviously, putting is probably the strongest part of my game right now and that's really what it all comes down to coming down the stretch at Augusta."

Amazingly, Laird's victory was the 11th by a European golfer on the PGA Tour since the start of last May -- and that includes the last two majors in the United States. But it was more the fact that compatriot Paul Lawrie had won in Spain on the same day that caught people's attention.

With Colin Montgomerie in decline, Scotland didn’t have a single player in the game's top 100 at the start of last year. Now Laird is at a career-high 21st, Stephen Gallacher is 74th, and Lawrie -- still the last British winner of the Open -- has climbed from 272nd to 150th with his win at the Andalucia Open.

"It's no secret that Scottish golf has been down for a few years after Monty's dominance," Laird said. "Now we have got a lot of good players. We just need to get up there and get experience, and to have two wins in one week is obviously huge."

He also pointed out that Sandy Lyle -- who won the Masters on his seventh attempt in 1988 -- won on the European Senior Tour two weeks ago and leads that money list.

"We won the Eisenhower Trophy (World Amateur Team title) a couple of years ago, but for some reason guys trying to make the transition from amateur golf to professional golf has just not been working," Laird added. "I was lucky enough when I graduated from Colorado State that a group of sponsors gave me some money to play. I could just go work on my game and try and get better.

"People back in Scotland don't always have that luxury, but I believe now they have a system set up with a couple of sponsors and I think some government funding (Lawrie also has his own foundation) that they are going to try and bridge that gap,” he explained. "There's no doubt we have the talent in the country."

There is another easy measure -- apart from his world ranking and bank balance -- of how much and how quickly Laird has improved.

Last August, he three-putted from under 25 feet on the final hole in the first of the FedExCup playoff event and lost a playoff to Matt Kuchar.

To avoid sudden death with Steve Marino on Sunday, he two-putted the last hole from 83 feet -- and that after making a 22-footer on the 15th, an 18-footer on the 16th (both for birdies) and a five-footer for par at the short 17th, where Marino had just double bogeyed.

Yet even with playing the last four holes in 2 under, Laird shot a closing 75. He covered the first 11 in 5 over.

"I pretty much hit it everywhere until about the last four holes," he admitted. "It was a battle out there, but it makes it even sweeter at the end when I got this trophy. And I wasn't going to let a tournament like this slip through my fingers again by three-putting the last.

"A couple of years ago, I wouldn't have thought I could have won a tournament like this,” he explained. “I've probably always lacked a little bit of self-confidence and I knew I wasn't good enough when I first came over, but at the end of last year I started to realize that I could be one of the best players.

"Over the last few years I've always been a grinder. And all of those hours on the range and all of those hours on the greens, chipping green, whatever, it all pays off eventually."