Scotsman was first European to win at Bay Hill
Martin Laird enjoyed two firsts on a late Sunday afternoon last March when he walked off the final green at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge. He got to shake the hand of Arnold Palmer, and he successfully converted a 54-hole lead into a victory, which allowed him to enjoy the aforementioned handshake.
"You know, I had never met Arnold until I walked off that last green and shook his hand. That's an awesome way to meet someone, especially someone who is such a legend in the game," says Laird, recalling those moments immediately after his hard-fought win in the 2011 Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard. "It was exciting to walk up that hill and tell him what a thrill it was to win his tournament.
"Before I was ever on the PGA TOUR I remember watching on TV and seeing guys walk off the green and shake hands with Arnold, and I thought that was so incredibly cool. Besides winning majors, I feel like an event where Arnold Palmer is the host is about as big a tournament as you can win."
For Laird, who finished at eight-under-par 280, it was about as tough a way as there is to win a tournament, too.
The native of Scotland, seeking his second TOUR victory, began the final round on the Championship Course at Bay Hill with a two-stroke lead over Spencer Levin, but after double-bogeying the 11th hole, he was five over par for the round and trailed Steve Marino by three strokes. Somehow, Laird pulled himself out of the tailspin, birdied two of the last four holes, and managed to beat Marino by one shot.
Laird, 28, became the first European-born player to win at Bay Hill, and his three-over-par 75 was the highest final round by a winner in tournament history.
"It was tough going. I made it exciting for sure, although that's not how it felt at the time. But I look at it as something I can learn from," says Laird, who is looking forward to defending his title in the 34th Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard scheduled for March 19-25. "I was just trying to hang in there, and I did a good job of that. I had a battle on my hand, mainly with myself."
There was a battle, but Laird wasn't alone. The final three pairings during Sunday's final round scored a combined 19 over par. It looked a bit like a U.S. Open had broken out on the broad shoulders of the Championship Course at Bay Hill.
"It was an exciting finish. We enjoyed watching the drama, and we certainly enjoyed our champion and how he came through," Palmer says. Laird birdied the 15th and 16th holes and then saved par on the closing two holes. At the famed home hole, Laird managed to two-putt from nearly 90 feet.
"That might have been the longest two-putt I've ever had... and by quite a bit," Laird says.
It was certainly one of the longest days of his career, one that looked grim after 11 holes. But Laird says he never got flustered.
"Obviously, going from a lead to being two back with seven holes left is not what you're trying to do," Laird says. "But I never got to the stage where I felt like the tournament was gone. Obviously, I was frustrated and disappointed that I put myself in that situation, but I still felt like I had a chance to win the tournament. I said to my caddie walking down 11 that we have two par-fives left, and we need to birdie both of them and give ourselves a chance. I ended up doing just that.
"I look back and think that took a little bit of guts to shoot five over and then birdie two of the last four to win the tournament. I'm proud of myself for that. That was a do-or-die stretch and I had to dig down deep, especially mentally, and I pulled it out when I needed to. I can't tell you what I think that's going to do for my golf game when I face similar situations in the future."
For tickets to the 2012 Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard or for more information, call the Bay Hill Club ticket office at 407-876-7774 or toll free at 1-866-764-4843, or visit us on the Internet at www.arnoldpalmerinvitational.com. Tournament proceeds benefit Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies.