The birthplace of golf is back in the winner’s circle on the biggest Tour in golf!
Scotland’s Martin Laird snapped a seven-year winless drought on the PGA Tour, ousting Austin Cook and recent U.S. Open runner-up Matthew Wolff on the second playoff hole to win the Shriners Hospitals For Children Open. It is the fourth career victory for Laird, who had fallen to No. 351 in the Official World Golf Rankings.
Held at TPC Summerlin in Las Vegas, it did not seem to be much of a gamble to admit the 37-year-old into the tournament field as a sponsor’s exemption. Laird won the event back in 2009, also in a playoff, and was runner-up the following year for one of the craziest playoffs in Tour history, when Jonathan Byrd nailed a walk-off hole-in-one on the 17th hole.
That considerable playoff experience at TPC Summerlin had to be helpful for Laird, but his best days at the course may have seemed like a distant memory, given that his best result in the event since, by far, was just a T18 at the 2014 edition. This past season, his only top-40 finish was at an opposite field event in Puerto Rico in February, where he collapsed on the final day when he was just one stroke off the 54-hole lead.
There was also the matter of his knee. Laird tore his meniscus in June and had played just three events since February, with results of CUT-T65-T28, respectively.
However, despite the obstacles, Laird was absolutely brilliant on Sunday in a 3-under 68 that featured two unbelievable up-and-downs, several clutch putts, and a phenomenal bounce-back after failing to clinch the victory on the 72nd hole.
After playing the first three rounds in 65 or better, Laird was at 20-under for the week, which was tied for the co-lead. He knew he would be in for a heck of a Sunday battle, as the man he shared the lead with, World No. 13 Patrick Cantlay had either won, or finished runner-up in this event in each of the past editions.
Surprisingly, it was Cantlay who looked like he had not been there before. Four bogeys on the first six holes essentially knocked out the 28-year-old from championship contention.
Laird, meanwhile, had two birdies and an eagle to make the turn at 3-under. The eagle, which occurred on the par-5 9th was this tournament’s “can you believe what you just saw?” moment. His 3-wood approach from 257 yards out buried into the lip of a greenside bunker, with very little green to work with. A shot that could have gone anywhere, Laird shockingly holed-out. From there, he was cemented as the clear chasee down the stretch.
After birdies on Nos. 13 and 15, Laird stood on the par-3 17th hole, the site of his 2010 playoff loss to Byrd, with a one stroke lead over Cook, who was in the clubhouse at 23-under. Perhaps succumbing some to the pressure of having not won in so long, Laird sent his tee shot considerably to the right, hitting the cart path, and landing roughly 35 yards from the green, behind a tree, with water on the other side of the green.
With the announcers more or less calling it an impossible shot, and bogey-or-worse looking like a near certainty, Laird somehow managed an unbelievable recovery shot, landing in the small area he had in front of the green and sliding 18 feet from the hole. He then sunk his putt for the par of the tournament.
Unfortunately for Laird, he was unable to card a matching par on 18, missing a 28-foot putt that would have clinched the win right there, forcing a playoff with Cook and Wolff, the latter of whom shot a third-round 61 and had posted recent top-4s at both the PGA Championship and the U.S. Open.
All three playoff participants shot par on the first playoff hole, played on 18. Going back to 17, Laird was fortunate to not be the victim of another shocking ace. He did, however, card the only birdie of the trio, sinking a clutch 23-foot putt to claim his first victory since the 2013 Valero Texas Open.
After the three players at 23-under, the next closest competitor was Mexico’s Abraham Ancer, who shot a 4-under 67 to finish in fourth place, three strokes back. In his first Tour start since winning the U.S. Open in a rout, world No. 6 Bryson DeChambeau, who held the first round lead after an opening 62, shot a 66 to jump 23 spots up the final leaderboard, finishing in a share of eighth-place.
Final Top 10 Leaders
Pos-Player-To Par (Final Rd)
1. Martin Laird -23 (-3)
2. Austin Cook -23 (-5)
2. Matthew Wolff -23 (-5)
4. Abraham Ancer -20 (-4)
5. Peter Malnati -19 (-5)
5. James Hahn -19 (-3)
5. Will Zalatoris -19 (-2)
8. Bryson DeChambeau -18 (-5)
8. Justin Suh -18 (-4)
8. Matthew Nesmith -18 (-3)
8. Si Woo Kim -18 (-2)
8. Patrick Cantlay -18 (+2)
13. Joaquin Niemann -17
13. Webb Simpson -17
13. Sungjae Im -17
19. Louis Oosthuizen -16
19. Zach Johnson -16
34. Matt Kuchar -13
43. Sergio Garcia -12
43. Brandt Snedeker -12
43. Kevin Na -12
Notables Missing Cut
Cut line was -7
Scottie Scheffler (-6)
Paul Casey (-5)
Rafael Cabrera Bello (-5)
Byeong-Hun An (-5)
Hideki Matsuyama (-5)
Francesco Molinari (-4)
Charl Schwartzel (-4)
Cameron Champ (-3)
Jason Day (-2)
Rickie Fowler (-1)
Final Stat Leaders
Driving: 315.5 yards – Bryson DeChambeau (T8)
Fairways: 85.7% – Sungjae Im (T13)
Greens: 88.9% – Sungjae Im (T13)
Putts/GIR: 1.580 – Brandt Snedeker (T43)
Scoring: 28 – Laird, DeChambeau (3 Eagles, 22 Birdies)
How Martin Laird Won The Shriners
This was the third week in a row that Martin Laird opened an event with consecutive rounds in the 60s – this time with a day-one 65, and then a second-round 63 that vaulted him into a share of the 36-hole lead.
However, rather than fading on the weekend, he asserted himself in the championship picture with a Saturday round of 65, getting the Scot to 20-under for the week. His final round 68 included the eagle on No. 9 and four birdies, three of which were cancelled out with birdies.
For the week, Laird had three eagles, one in each of the final three rounds, and 22 birdies, which tied for 15th best in the field. He finished well in the positive in every strokes gained: category, ranking second in strokes gained: tee-to-green (9.7) and first in strokes gained total. After hitting all 14 fairways on Saturday, Laird hit six fewer on Sunday, but still finished fifth in the field in driving accuracy. He was 15th in greens in regulation, which fails to tell the story of how phenomenal he was with shotmaking.
Laird’s Winning Stats
Driving: 323.0 yards (15th)
Fairways: 78.6% (44/56) (5th)
Greens: 80.6% (58/72) (15th)
Putting: 1.647 (10th)
Eagles: 3 (1st)
Birdies: 22 (15th)
Scores: 3 Eagles, 22 Birdies, 42 Pars, 5 Bogeys
What It Means For Martin Laird
It makes him relevant again. The two-plus season exemption provides considerable job security, and he has already made more money in four starts this season than in 38 starts over the previous two.
Martin Laird had not qualified for a major since the 2017 PGA Championship, but now has a spot in the next Masters and PGA, in addition to a few other elite events.
With the victory, Laird rocketed from 351st to 88th in the world rankings, jumping past Robert MacIntyre to become the world’s highest-ranked Scotsman. His career best ranking is No. 21, which occurred after he won the 2011 Arnold Palmer Invitational. He also moves to fourth in the FedExCup standings, just four events into the new season.
Laird’s 2021 Season
Wins: 1 (Shriners)
Money: $1,314,640 (4th)
FedExCup: 532 (4th)
OWGR Start/Now: 351/88
TPC Summerlin was not holding a major this week, but you would not have known that watching Louis Oosthuizen. The former Open Champion Golfer of the Year, who has also finished runner-up in all four majors, scored the Sunday field low, a bogey-free 7-under 64. He rose a field-high 36 spots up the final leaderboard from T45 to T19, in his first start since finishing solo-third at the U.S. Open last month.
For the second week in a row, Peter Malnati put together a Sunday gem to surge into the clubhouse lead. After finishing runner-up at last week’s Sanderson Farms Championship, the 33-year-old recorded a final round 66 to jump from T19 to T5. That makes back-to-back top-5s for Malnati, who had only recorded one in 157 starts prior.
Matching Malnati, Austin Cook, Matthew Wolff, and Bryson DeChambeau for the second-best round in the Sunday field was 21-year-old Joaquin Niemann. With five birdies and an eagle, the star Chilean moved from T40 to T13 on Sunday.
Given his recent record in this event (a win and two runner-ups in the past three editions), Patrick Cantlay’s Sunday struggle was absolutely shocking. He was able to calm down after his horrific start, playing the final 12 holes in bogey-free 2-under, but by then, the damage had been done.
Cantlay shot a 2-over 73, his worst round of the week by eight strokes, and dropped into a share of eighth place. With a win, Cantlay would have joined Tiger, Jack, and Tom Watson as the only players in the past 60 years to finish second-or-better in the same event four straight years.
Cantlay finished fourth in the field in birdies, despite making only two on the final day.
The talk of the Tour at this time last week was the sudden resurgence of Sergio Garcia, who snapped out of recent slump with a victory at the Sanderson Farms Championship. The 40-year-old former Masters Champ got into contention early by opening 66-64, and still had a prayer after a Saturday 69, but he was out of sorts on Sunday, faltering to a 2-over 73 and dropping 24 spots from T19 to T43.
At one point on the front nine, Sergio bogeyed four consecutive holes.
Kevin Na won this event back in 2011, when Justin Timberlake was still the tournament sponsor, and finished runner-up in 2016, but past success did little for him on Sunday. Na was just three strokes off the 54-hole lead before a dreadful 5-over 76 – 12 strokes worse than his Saturday score – to drop from T9 to T43, the biggest drop (36 spots) in the Sunday field.
The only player in the field to shoot worse than Na was recent Tour winner Stewart Cink. Two waterballs on the par-4 12th led to a quintuple bogey 9, and aided largely in his horrendous total of 10-over 81.
Cink, who is still ranked third in the current FedExCup standings dropped from T31 to T64, finishing only above Luke Donald among those who made the cut.
“I’ve Been Working Hard” For This Win!
“It’s been a while, so I’ve been working hard; seven years since my last one (win). I feel like now my game is really as good as it has been. Been playing well the past few weeks; just haven’t had the results.”
– Martin Laird