Laird wins wild one at Arnold Palmer Invitational

By Jay CoffinMarch 28, 2011, 2:21 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Until Sunday, most of Orlando’s infamous pileups and traffic jams all had occurred on Interstate 4.

But like many fender benders on Central Florida’s main highway, someone here at the Arnold Palmer Invitational had to walk away victorious on a day that produced heat, wind, difficult hole locations and firm, crispy greens.

There was plenty of rubbernecking too.

Perhaps then it was fitting that Martin Laird was the last man standing at Arnold Palmer’s beloved Bay Hill. The long-hitting Scot held the 54-hole lead, converted three key par putts on the first five holes of the final round, looked steady, then made double bogey on the 11th hole to fall back before rebounding down the stretch when everyone else faltered.

Proof Sunday was an awkward day? Laird walked off the 14th hole two shots off the lead then walked off the 16th hole two ahead.

Laird, 28, shot 70-65-70-75 for an 8-under-par 280 total to capture his second PGA Tour victory. Steve Marino again failed to collect his first Tour hardware when he coughed up the lead late with a double bogey on 17. He regained his composure and made birdie on the final hole but ended second at 281. Justin Rose, Marc Leishman and David Toms tied for third at 282.

The final-round 75 by Laird was the highest finish by a winner on the PGA Tour since Trevor Immelman won The Masters in 2008 with the same score. It’s the highest score by a winner in a non-major since Peter Lonard shot 75 to win the 2005 Heritage.

“I knew it was going to be this tough to win,” said Laird, who admits he’s already made goals of playing for Europe in the 2012 Ryder Cup. “I knew there was going to be someone playing well. It was a battle out there, but you know, it makes it even sweeter.”

Laird’s first Tour victory came two years ago at the Justin Timberlake Open in Las Vegas but he may be more remembered for his two near misses. Laird was one of the victims to Jonathan Byrd’s walk-off playoff ace at last year’s Justin Timerblake Open and he had the 2010 Barclays in the bag on the final hole but three-putted from inside 25 feet to back into a playoff he’d eventually lose to Matt Kuchar.

Putting, the thing that’s hurt him most in the past, was the key to victory this week. Laird made numerous par-saving attempts the first three days, and did so on Sunday in spades.

None were bigger than putts on 17 and 18. On the penultimate hole, Laird made a par putt from 5 feet to assure he’d take the lead into the home hole.

Once Marino made birdie at 18, Laird knew that he needed par to win. He drove the ball through the fairway into deep rough then hacked out to the front portion of the 18th green, 87 feet from the hole. Laird calmly stroked the putt to 3 feet and made the putt to claim the one-shot victory.

“I never thought about not winning,” Laird said. “That’s not to say I thought I knew I was going to win, but that was the focus. I was not going to let this one get away.”

Meanwhile, Marino’s woes continue. He now has collected 21 top-10 finishes in this, his fifth PGA Tour season, and is at the top of the discussion for Best Player on Tour Without a Victory.

This one was the closest of them all. Although the scorecard shows that Marino shot 72 on a day where par was a great score, his double bogey on the 17th should haunt him for some time. Holding a one-shot lead standing on the tee Marino hit 6-iron into a front greenside bunker that produced a nasty fried-egg lay. He blasted out to the back fringe and three-putted for double bogey.

Hand it to Marino, he had the moxie to make birdie from 8 feet on the difficult final hole to put pressure on Laird, but it wasn’t enough.

“I felt like I just played so well all day and just a couple bad breaks, and one bad putt was all it took to take me out of it,” Marino said. “I was real proud of the way I hung in there and hit two great shots into 18. If there’s any positive to draw on this, that definitely is a positive for sure.”

Marino, 31, seems to take the myriad close calls in stride but they’re starting to pile up like snow during a harsh Northeast winter. He’s now 0-for-4 with a 54-hole lead.

Two of the most recent hiccups have come this year. Marino finished second to Mark Wilson at the Sony Open and was two shots off the lead last month at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am standing on the 18th tee. He hit his drive in the bunker, chipped out and, trying to force eagle for the tie, blew his 4-iron third shot well into the water. He made triple-bogey 8 and tied for fourth.

While Marino has continued to put himself in position to win, Tiger Woods cannot say the same. For consecutive days he struggled to close out a round. On Saturday, he double bogeyed 13 and bogeyed 16. Sunday was worse. Woods was 3 under through 16 holes but finished bogey, double bogey to tie for 24th at Bay Hill, a place he’s owened for the better part of a decade with six victories.

This week didn’t produce the results he was looking for in his last tune-up before his quest begins for a fifth green jacket. Or did it?

“Especially today, I really hit the ball well and the things that we’re working on the last couple weeks felt comfortable,” Woods said. “I felt I was able to control just about every shot today.”

The old Woods used to be disappointed when he shot 68, the new one says he played well when he shoots 72.

Phil Mickelson will get another Masters tune-up this week at the Houston Open. He shot a final-round 73 and tied for 24th with Woods, but remains ranked behind him in the Official World Ranking (Woods is fifth, Mickelson sixth.)

In the end it was Laird, the Scot, standing with the hardware, which produced two firsts. It was the first time Laird met Arnold Palmer and it was the first time a European won here at Bay Hill.

Beats a pileup on I-4 any day.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


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The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.

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Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.

The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.

It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.

"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.

Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.

"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."