Martin Laird’s putter came alive just in time to earn a spot on golf’s grandest stage.
Laird posted a course-record 9-under 63 to win the Valero Texas Open by two shots over World No. 2 Rory McIlroy on Sunday, earning a spot in the Masters as a result.
Here are 5 Things to take away from the Scot’s comeback victory:
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1. MASTERFUL MARTIN: Laird had not looked like a player primed for a tee time at Augusta National during the bulk of 2013, missing four of eight cuts prior to the Texas Open – including last week in Houston.
His four weekends didn’t end all that well either, with his best finish a T-34 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational two weeks ago.
But Sunday’s round at TPC San Antonio should give him some confidence heading to Georgia.
Laird had five front-nine birdies to catch 54-hole leader Billy Horschel, then used four back-nine birdies to hold off Rory McIlroy by two shots.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Laird. “I’ve been asked 30 times last couple of weeks: ‘You in Augusta? You in Augusta? It hurt a little bit.”
The victory snaps a streak of 16 consecutive American victories on the PGA Tour.
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2. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED: Rory McIlroy was a late addition to the Texas Open lineup, convinced by his caddie to enter the tournament for a bit more time to tune up for this week’s Masters.
J.P. Fitzgerald might deserve a raise.
McIlroy gave Laird plenty to think about on the back nine, picking up four birdies down the closing stretch en route to a 6-under 66 for his best finish of the season.
Coming off a week when he failed to break 70 and finished T-45 at the Shell Houston Open, McIlroy had eight birdies and two bogeys on Sunday.
“(This week was about) eliminating the stupid mistakes on the course I was making, stupid errors,” said McIlroy. “(Laird’s) 63 in these conditions is phenomenal. (I am) really pleased with my game, and this is great for me.”
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3. ANOTHER CLOSE CALL: It isn’t a stretch to call Billy Horschel the most consistent golfer on Tour during the past nine months, but Horschel is still looking for his breakthrough moment.
With 22 consecutive cuts made on Tour, Horschel followed a T-2 performance last week with a T-3 finish this week, carding a 1-under 71 after holding the 54-hole lead.
Horschel struggled finding greens in regulation Sunday, having to scramble to make par on most of the front nine, posting an even-par 36 to allow Laird to catch him.
An ill-timed bogey at the par-3 13th reduced the importance of closing birdies on Nos. 15 and 18 and left him simply fighting for position behind Laird.
It is Horschel’s fourth top-25 finish of the season.
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4. ON TO AUGUSTA: There were plenty of marquee names not involved with the final outcome at the Texas Open.
• 2011 champion Charl Schwartzel posted a second 70 on the weekend to finish the tournament at 3 under, joining Peter Hanson and Matt Kuchar at T-22. Hanson held the lead after the third round at Augusta in 2012, while Kuchar held the lead during the final round last year.
• Ian Poulter enjoyed his best round of the tournament with a 3-under 69 to finish at even for the tournament.
• Padraig Harrington started the tournament on fire, firing a 4-under 68 in the first round. But he was only 3 under par for the next 54 holes and finished 7 under for the tournament, good for T-9.
• Jim Furyk, who had two drivers in his bag this week, fired an 3-under 69 Sunday to finish at 11 under and T-3 with Horschel and Charley Hoffman. Furyk holed out for eagle on the par-5 18th to earn himself an extra bit of cash.
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5. SHORT SHOTS: Greg Chalmers recorded the first tournament-play, hole-in-one on the par-3 16th at TPC San Antonio. . . . Chris DiMarco enjoyed his best finish since a T-8 at the John Deere Classic last July, firing a 4-under 68 to finish at 3 under for the tournament. . . . Charley Hoffman started the final round two shots back of Horschel, but double-bogeyed No. 1 to put himself on an upward climb all afternoon. He responded by picking up six birdies on the back-nine and finished with an 3-under 69 to finish T-3.