MARTIN LAIRD is planning a homecoming later this year after wiping away fears of losing his spot on the PGA Tour.
The Scot’s win in the Texas Open last weekend has secured him a two-year exemption on the money-spinning US-based circuit.
It means the Aberdeen Asset Scottish Open in Inverness is back on his radar and also this summer’s Open at Muirfield.
“The two-year exemption takes the pressure off a lot of things,” admitted Laird before teeing off in the 77th Masters. “It will allow me to play maybe a little more in Europe.
“If I hadn’t won this year I must not have been able to come to Europe at all but now the season has turned around.”
Slipping outside the top 50 in the world saw Laird miss out on the opening two WGC events of the season but after climbing back to 56th after his stunning triumph in San Antonio, the 30-year-old has next year’s Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in his sights.
“It opens the door and maybe I can come back, play a couple more events and try and make a push for that team,” he added.
“It’s a long long road for me, though. I’m not thinking about the Ryder Cup just now. You’ve got to be in the top 50 and play in the big events to prove you can do it. I’m back up to just outside that and hopefully I’ll be back up there.”
Laird reached a career-high 23rd in the world after winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational two years ago but he’d been in freefall until returning to form with a vengeance last Sunday, when he closed with a nine-under-par 63 to claim his third PGA Tour title.
The win secured him the final spot in this week’s event alongside two of his compatriots, Sandy Lyle and Paul Lawrie.
“I’d been asked so many times this year ‘are you playing Augusta?’ and it was the same with the WGC Matchplay and I had to say no,” said Laird.
“I was walking down the fifth hole on Sunday with Jeff Overton and he said ‘have you been injured or something’. No, maybe just injured in the brain.
“Over the last seven or eight months I have really been playing badly and my confidence was going. You start to doubt yourself, what you are doing and whether I was right to make the swing changes I did.
“So it’s extremely gratifying when all that hard work on making the changes comes around. I mean, last week was without doubt the best I’ve ever hit it for a week over all four days.
“The way I putted the final round was really good, but the first three days I was just average on the greens.
“Every day I came off in a bad mood thinking that was the worst score I could have shot today, so it was nice to go out Sunday and finally get the best I could have shot.”
It was a welcome turnaround from the previous week’s Shell Open in Houston, where the former Scottish Youths’ champion had been hitting it “terrible”.
He added: “I don’t think I hit the middle of the clubface once with an iron there. It was just shocking how badly I hit it.
“So I went back to the range and hit balls for about four hours and got things figured out. Then I went out Friday and finished really strongly to barely miss the cut and that gave me a lot of confidence.
“People would never have thought it back then, but I was quietly confident of playing well going to San Antonio because I had hit it so well in the second round at Houston – and it’s a golf course that’s set up perfectly for me.”
The win meant Laird found himself teeing off amongst the world’s elite today in the opening major of the season instead of packing boxes.
“If I hadn’t won I would have spent this week moving house,” he revealed. “We are relocating from Arizona to the east coast and we were planning to get organised for that, but we’ll do that the following week.
“I was due to play Hilton Head next week, but this is my fifth tournament in a row so I’m going to take a couple of weeks off. I don’t watch too much golf when I’m not playing, but I’d probably have watched the last day of The Masters wishing I was there – but now I don’t have to.”