Laird fulfills dream, qualifies for British Open

Martin Laird on May 24 during the British Open International Final Qualifying at the Gleneagles Country Club.
Martin Laird on May 24 during the British Open International Final Qualifying at the Gleneagles Country Club. ( Getty Images )

Monday, May 24, 2010

PLANO, Texas – Scotsman Martin Laird isn’t just going home. He’s going to where his first golf dreams were directed.

The one-time PGA Tour winner was born in Glasgow and raised nearby. These days his parents live in Upper Largo, Scotland, about 15 miles from St. Andrews, the home of golf. The 139th British Open is at the Old Course at St. Andrews July 15-18. And here on Monday at a Scottish-sounding place, Gleneagles Country Club, Laird was one of eight players in a field of 78 to qualify for that Open.

Connecting the dots isn’t difficult. Laird might not be at the top of the world ranking, but he is on top of the world.

“For me it doesn’t get any better than the Open at St. Andrews,” the 27-year-old Laird said after shooting 8-under 132 (69-63) at Gleneagles’ 6,856-yard Queens Course. “It’s the one I always dreamed about as a kid. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been thinking about this qualifier for a while.”

Laird has played the Old Course but five times – four in a 1998 junior tournament and 18 holes last December with his father. This time around, he’ll stay with his parents and keep dreaming.

The winner of the 2009 Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals event in Las Vegas has this qualifying thing down. Last year, he also made it through the International Final Qualifying (IFQ) here at Gleneagles and went on to miss the cut at Turnberry, Scotland. In 2009, he also got through 36-hole U.S. Open sectional qualifying.

“Maybe I need to take this (mentality) to tournaments,” said the third-year Tour player who has lived in the United States a decade. “Just let loose and fire at flags.”

Laird birdied six of his first eight holes and seven of 11 in the afternoon round Monday and coasted. He finished three strokes behind medalist Tim Petrovic, winner of the 2005 Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

Petrovic shot 11-under 129, one better than Bo Van Pelt (65-65) and two up on D.A. Points (63-68). Tom Pernice Jr. (64-69–133) finished a shot behind Laird, and Glen Day (67-67) and George McNeill (68-66) tied for sixth at 134. The eighth and final spot went to Tour rookie Cameron Percy of Australia, who holed a 12-foot birdie putt to beat Bubba Watson and Charley Hoffman on the third hole (No. 18) of a three-for-one, sudden-death playoff.

Watson and Hoffman drove far right on the decisive extra hole. Percy, whose best Tour finish is T-22 at the Valero Texas Open, thought they might have found a hazard. But they didn’t, and both hit remarkable recovery shots – Hoffman a low approach under branches to 8 feet and Watson a big 40-yard hook to 10 feet. But both missed after Percy converted.

“I’m ecstatic,” said Percy, who missed the cut in the 2003 Open, his only Tour start until this year. “I get to send my Dad to St. Andrews.”

After regulation, Hoffman changed into T-shirt, shorts and flip-flops and packed his clubs into a travel bag and put them in his car trunk. “I’d love to unpack the clubs and put my clothes back on,” Hoffman said as he studied the scoreboard before learning he would play off.

Roland Thatcher shot 66-70–136 and joined Brandt Snedeker, Jeff Gove and Manuel Villegas in missing the playoff by one stroke. Gove got into the field when Fred Couples withdrew for an undisclosed reason Sunday night.

Thatcher’s might have been the hard-luck story of the day. He made 2 on the 190-yard 17th in the morning, but made a triple bogey there on his front nine of the afternoon using the same club. This time, his ball hit railroad ties and found water.

“I made a mess of it after that,” said Thatcher, 33, in his fifth Tour season. “I really wanted to go to St. Andrews. When you’re 80 years old, you can sit on the couch and say you were there.”

Woody Austin missed the playoff by two shots after double-bogeying 15 and bogeying 16. “My classic 2010 finish,” Austin said. “That’s how I’ve finished about every round this year.”

Davis Love III’s streak of 23 consecutive starts at the British, dating back to 1987, is in danger because he missed qualifying with 71-69. Love, 46, still has three different ways to get in: Making the top two not otherwise exempt off of a seven-event money list that includes the Players and the six consecutive Tour events through July 4; and finishing as leading scorer not otherwise exempt among the top 5 finishers at either the AT&T National and John Deere Classic. Love tied for fourth at the Players.

“I don’t want to miss it,” he said. “St. Andrews is a great course for me, as long as I’m hitting it. It’s the major I’d hate to miss the most right now. And I’ve missed too many (majors) lately (the last three Masters and the 2009 U.S. Open). I would hope I continue playing the way I’ve played since late March. I’m playing well enough.”

D.J. Trahan had the shot of the day in a morning 68 – a double-eagle 2 on the 492-yard 10th with a 4-iron from 241 yards – but failed the playoff by six shots. In the afternoon, Brian Davis made his first hole-in-one in competition, holing a 3-iron shot from 221 yards on No. 15.

“It’s pretty sad, huh?” said Davis, who failed to qualify. “The first one in competition. How many years have I been out here?”

Petrovic missed the British cut in his three appearances – 2002, ’05 and ’08. A golf history buff, Petrovic tied for sixth at the recent Valero Texas Open and then took last week off to visit his sister in Boston, where he attended a couple of Red Sox games. Then he went low here.

“Maybe I’m on to something,” he said. “Maybe I need to take a couple of more weeks off.”

A feel player, Petrovic raised his game recently by playing with fewer technical thoughts. Monday, he birdied his first four holes in the afternoon to get to 10 under. Watson was three under on those four holes and couldn’t get the honor.

“I learned a lot last time at the Old Course,” Petrovic said. “All the trouble is to the right, and I had a case of the rights that week (’05). Five practice rounds didn’t do anything.”

Petrovic was amazed by St. Andrews. He called the course so firm that the “fairways were faster than the greens. I putted from 50 yards out. The fairways were rolling 10 (on the Stimpmeter).”

Van Pelt will play his first British since 2006, when he missed the cut for the third year in a row. Van Pelt’s lone Tour victory came the week of last year’s British, at the U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee.

Interestingly, he missed the British qualifier here last year because of illness. “But it worked out well because I ended up winning in Milwaukee,” Van Pelt said.

He has been one hottest players the past month or so thanks to improved putting. He tied for third at the Verizon Heritage, finished fifth at the Quail Hollow Championship and tied for fourth at the Players. Monday, he hit 33 greens in regulation and made one bogey.

Points has made 108 PGA Tour starts but just one major championship (2008 U.S. Open). “It’s a great honor to play my first British Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “Today was the best golf I’ve probably played in 2010.”

Pernice, who got into the qualifying field Friday when Billy Mayfair withdrew, has played four British Opens. He tied for 66th in 1993 and missed the cut the last three times (2005-07). He called a return to St. Andrews “special.” Last time, he watched Jack Nicklaus birdie the last hole of his Open Championship career. This time, he’ll stay and play the Senior British Open at Carnoustie the next week.

Day has not played the British Open since 2004 and has missed the cut in his five appearances. Yet he says it’s one of his favorite tournaments.

“Anybody that doesn’t want to play that tournament, especially this year at the Old Course, doesn’t know anything about golf,” Day said.