ORLANDO, Fla. – After a pair of tough losses, it may finally be Martin Laird’s turn to hoist another trophy.
Laird’s hands were tied in losses last year at The Barclays (where he fell to Matt Kuchar’s tap-in birdie after an unlikely escape from the trees) and Justin Timberlake’s tournament (where Jonathan Byrd won with a walk-off ace). But after a 2-under 70, Laird holds a two-shot lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational over Spencer Levin.
“What I took out of that is that my game is where I want it to be and I definitely know I can compete,” Laird said. “Looking back, I’d rather lose to that than me hitting a bad tee shot and making bogey or something. I didn’t feel I really made a mistake to lose those tournaments.”
Laird, who won in Las Vegas in 2009, birdied Nos. 4, 5 and 6 Saturday to open his lead to three over Levin, but fell back with bogeys at 14 and 15. He birdied the short par-5 16th to get back to 11 under for the tournament.
“Even after I won, I’ve had three or four chances where I’ve had really good chances to win and not done it,” Laird said. “Ask anyone. It’s very, very tough to win a golf tournament. It doesn’t matter where it is.”
“And you know, I know that going into tomorrow.”
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Check, please: Coming off the fourth tee, Rickie Fowler was feeling good. And why not? He had birdied the first two holes and stuck his approach at the third to 4 feet (although he missed and made par).
In fact, he was feeling so good he decided to make it interesting. Peering over at the sixth tee box, Fowler shouted to Bubba Watson, “High round buys dinner?”
Fowler went on to birdie the fourth, but Watson buried a 30-footer for eagle at the sixth. After all was said and done, Watson finished at 4-under 68 and Fowler turned in a 70.
“He might go for the most expensive thing, but we’ll see where we end up going,” Fowler said.
According to a picture posted on Twitter this evening, it appeared Fowler had to splurge on a trip to Chipotle.
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The King’s packed palace: At the start of the third round, Tiger Woods was in the conversation. And there were plenty of people at Bay Hill to talk about it.
Playing with Jason Dufner, Woods drew mammoth crowds throughout the day, even while his third-round 74 moved him into a tie for 29th.
“I had two water balls out there and a couple short missed putts and hence, I was 2 over par,” Woods said. “Tee-to-green, it wasn’t that bad … a round that should have been under par easily ended up over par.”
With Fowler in the group behind Woods, there weren’t many fans left to follow the lead group of Laird and Levin.
“It’s only my third year out here, but I’ve been here long enough to know that’s what’s going to happen,” Levin said. “But coming down the stretch, everyone is still waiting for you.”
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Family ties: It wasn’t too tough for Sam Saunders to round up a sponsor exemption this week – he is the grandson of the tournament host. Saunders, who made his second straight cut on Tour this week, is making the most of it.
Saunders, who made the cut for the second straight year, fired a 3-under 69 Saturday to move into a tie for 38th. He finished tied for 15th at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
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Fond memories: Fowler will be chasing his elusive first PGA Tour win Sunday at Bay Hill, but he already has a title under his belt on this famed layout. Fowler won the 2006 HP Boys Championship at Bay Hill, a major invitational of the American Junior Golf Association.
“I think I finished 66-67, so I’ve definitely got some work left to do to catch that,” Fowler said. “That was a pretty cool win because it was probably one of my biggest wins at the time.”
Kyle Stanley, who tied the low round of the day Saturday (66), won the AJGA event in 2005.