A STUNNING final round from Scotland’s Martin Laird denied Rory McIlroy from claiming his first victory of 2013 at the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio.
Laird came into yesterday five shots behind overnight leader Billy Horschel but an unblemished nine-under-par 63 saw the Scot storm to his first title since winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational a little over two years ago.
McIlroy finished two strokes back on 12 under par overall but his runner-up finish should boost his confidence ahead of the coming week’s Masters after what had been a forgettable start to the year.
The world No 2 showed flashes of his best form with an excellent closing 66 – a round that would have been good enough to take victory had it not been for the sheer brilliance of Laird.
The 30-year-old Glaswegian opened his charge with five birdies in his opening six holes to move into a share of the lead alongside Horschel, whose one-under 71 saw him finish joint third.
Laird revelled under pressure and closed his sensational round with three consecutive birdies to pick up his third PGA Tour title and a victory that sealed his place at Augusta next week.
“It’s unbelievable. I’ve been asked probably 30 times in the last couple of weeks ‘Are you in Augusta? Are you in Augusta?’ and I’ve had to say ‘No’ and every time it kind of hurt me a little bit after playing the last couple,” Laird said afterwards.
“So that was my major motivation to try and get back into tournaments like that this year and this win goes a long way in doing that.”
Laird’s strong finish effectively ended McIlroy’s challenge although the 23-year-old gave himself every chance of victory by picking up eight birdies, although he will perhaps rue the bogeys he picked up at the fourth and tenth holes.
He narrowly missed a 40-foot eagle putt at the last, but tapped in for birdie to guarantee second place.
“Even though I didn’t get the trophy, Martin was just too good today, 63 in these conditions is just phenomenal,” said McIlroy.
“I’m really pleased with my game and I think this has been a great week for me.”
When asked how he has shaken off the form that saw him endure a woeful start to the year, he added: “Just eliminating the stupid mistakes that I was making on the course, mental errors, and to finish off this tournament in the way I did today is great going into Augusta.”
Veteran Jim Furyk, the 2003 US Open champion, and Charley Hoffman finished third alongside American compatriot Horschel after they both carded closing three-under-par 69s.
South Korea’s KJ Choi finished on nine under overall, which was good enough for sixth, with American pair Daniel Summerhays and Jeff Overton a shot further back. Ireland’s Padraig Harrington was one of three players to finish in a tie for 10th after a closing 70, while England’s Ian Poulter came joint 37th after a final three-under-par round today – his best score of the week.
Meanwhile, South Korean Inbee Park had a second major title in her sights after building a three-shot lead to carry into last night’s final round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
The 2008 US Women’s Open champion tamed the Mission Hills course with a 67 for the second day in a row to surge to 12 under par. That put her comfortably ahead of her nearest challenger, American Lizette Salas, who herself held a three-shot cushion over a group of six players tied for third on six under: Norway’s Suzann Pettersen, US players Angela Stanford and Jessica Korda, Australian Karrie Webb, France’s Karine Icher and Thailand’s Pornanong Phatlum.
Stanford signed for a best-of-the-day six-under 66 at the California course. British hopes of success were dashed when first-round co-leader Jodi Ewart Shadoff fell away to a share of 17th place on two under after a two-over 74. The Englishwoman was one shot ahead of Scotland’s Catriona Matthew, who had her best round of the week, a two-under 70.