After a decade spent chasing the American dream, Scotland’s Martin Laird struck a decisive blow for tartan pride on Sunday as he became the first European winner in the 33-year history of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.
Nerveless in the final reckoning — despite several stutters during Sunday’s round of 75 — Laird prevailed to thwart American Steve Marino and a late-charging Justin Rose. At times the 82-degree Florida heat appeared to be addling Laird, who frittered away a three-shot cushion as some of his putting jitters resurfaced.
But Laird’s powers of concentration at the 18th, where he took two putts from 50 feet to claim the trophy, were formidable. He could be thankful his earlier choke had not been as extreme as that of Marino, who twice found himself plugged in bunkers when within reach of the title. Laird had left the 14th green two behind, but walked off the 16th two ahead. Such were the sudden switches in momentum.
Laird lived to dispel doubts over his mettle for the grand occasion. Twice before he had led after three rounds and he could not have recalled with much pleasure the previous time, when he had let slip a three-shot cushion in New Jersey to lose to Matt Kuchar in a play-off. There was to be no let-down this time. The Glaswegian steadied himself with three closing pars, winning by one to seal his second PGA Tour title.
With Tiger Woods out of the equation, Laird knew how to plot the path to a win, having secured his first tour trophy at the Justin Timberlake Open in Las Vegas. But brushes with celebrity — he had to have his photograph taken afterwards with Timberlake — had not caused him to forsake his Scottish roots.
Having emblazoned the Saltire upon his bag, his belt buckle and his shoes, the Glaswegian needed only to don a kilt here at Bay Hill to remind the curious galleries of his birthplace.