THERE may be a new Scottish kid on the block on the other side of the Atlantic, but our trailblazer in Uncle Sam’s land still has star quality and is not finished earning his stripes.
Martin Laird, a three-times PGA Tour winner, has seen his recent efforts on the US circuit overshadowed by compatriot Russell Knox. As high as 21st in the world rankings after winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational in 2011, Laird is now 150th. In contrast, Knox is on the up, having climbed 23 spots this year alone to sit 77th, not far behind Stephen Gallacher (64th) and Marc Warren (65th).
I feel I can win it. That’s why I’m out here at six o’clock practisingMartin Laird
On the back of three top 10s, including a brace of third-place finishes, Knox is occupying 34th position in this season’s FedEx Cup. With Laird 67th, he has returned home for the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in a supporting role, so to speak. He is just pleased, though, that the home of golf has two players making their presence felt on a consistent basis on the game’s toughest circuit these days instead of sporadic forays in the past by the likes of Sandy Lyle and Colin Montgomerie.
“I don’t see it as him taking my spot,” said Laird, smiling, of Knox having become the leading Saltire-standard bearer across the pond. “Russell’s a great guy and a great player. I didn’t know him before he got on Tour, but now I now know him pretty well. As you can see by just looking at results, he’s just really consistent. He seems to play well every time he tees it up and it’s good to see him doing that. You want to be the No 1 ranked guy because it means you’re playing well.”
After a dip in form – it coincided with him becoming a father for the first time – Laird has been happier with his performances on the wraparound 2015 PGA Tour schedule. He chalked up three top 10s early on before receiving a timely boost for this trip when he ended up in a share of 15th in the Travelers Championship in his last outing.
“The last couple of months, I’ve started to play really well again,” said the 32-year-old Glaswegian. “The Travelers was one of those weeks where I felt like I played okay and finished 15th, which is a good sign. Last year, I really didn’t play that well and then about this time of year I started clicking into gear and played well. Hopefully that’s the case again and I can keep it going.”
Fifth at Castle Stuart two years ago, Charlotte-based Laird got his first look at Gullane yesterday, having spent some time with his parents in Fife before getting down to business. “It’s always nice to be home,” he admitted. “Driving over here earlier in the week, I said to my wife, ‘I just love being back in Scotland’.”
Bringing Jack, the couple’s 16-month-old son, to Scotland is important to Laird. “When he was born, he got his American passport, but I got that British passport filed in pretty quickly,” said dad. “He is a British citizen and I want him to know that he’s half Scottish and half American.”
To get into next week’s Open Championship at St Andrews, Laird needs to secure one of three spots up for grabs this week. It will require a top-10 finish and that is certainly the target. “Outside the majors, this is the one I’d want to win,” he admitted. “Not just it’s your home Open, but because it’s one of the marquee events on the European Tour. I always get great support back here. And I love links golf. It might not be a course that people might pick me to win on, but it’s my favourite type of golf. It’s fun to play. I feel like I can win it. That’s what motivates me. That’s why I’m out here at six o’clock practising.”
Of the 17 Scots in this week’s field, Warren has the best record in this event in recent years, having finished third in both 2012 and 2014. Reflecting on the first of those efforts, he admits that letting a three-shot lead with four to play had “hurt a lot” but, at the same time, had helped him feel “comfortable” when in contention heading into the final round at Royal Aberdeen 12 months ago.
“I made mistakes at Castle Stuart but not last year and watching Justin Rose close out a tournament when leading helped me when I won again in the Made in Denmark tournament,” said Warren of his third European Tour triumph last August.
He described this week’s course as being in “incredible condition” and reckons the composite Championship Course in operation is “quite spectacular”. Assessing his chances in East Lothian, Warren said: “The last few years in this event have been kind to me and hopefully that run continues, even though it’s a new venue.”
• Today has been dubbed “Tartan Wednesday” at Gullane, with pro-am spectators being urged to join in the themed day.