MARTIN Laird is heading down the A9 feeling “mature” and also believing he has a genuine chance of becoming Scotland’s first Claret Jug winner in 14 years this weekend.
The 30-year-old gleaned numerous positives from a final-round 68 to finish as the leading home player, tying for fifth on 14-under, in the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open.
For starters, the way he bounced back from a double-bogey 6 at an opening hole where he “hates” the tee shot and, on this occasion, sent his drive on to the beach.
“Two years ago, after a start like that, I’d probably have shot five-over, but I have learned to handle situations like that,” admitted Laird later.
The three-times PGA Tour winner covered the remaining 17 holes in six-under, coming home in 31, and hailed the round as one of his “best” on home soil.
He also said it has been the perfect preparation for his fifth successive Open Championship appearance in East Lothian later this week.
“In my warm-up today I was absolutely striping it on the range, so I was excited to get out there and I just kept going after the horrible start,” he added.
“Even before this round I thought I could win next week, but this definitely gives me a little bit of confidence, especially playing in these conditions.
“I finally putted well today and I feel like I’ve been putting really well the last three days without making any, so hopefully I can take that confidence and make some next week.”
Laird, whose only previous visit to Muirfield was in the company of Alistair Low, a former club captain there, believes he has both the game and temperament to become Scotland’s first Open winner since Paul Lawrie.
“I used to be a little impatient on the golf course and you cannot do that in majors,” said the North Carolina-based player. “I think I have matured and I hope to take that into next week and do well.”
One of the big pluses for Laird in the Highlands was getting used to playing on a bouncy links course again as opposed to the target golf he plays on the PGA Tour.
“Normally I can fly a 9-iron about 155 yards, but today on eight I had 200 yards to the flag and hit a 9-iron that was way too much club so it went over the back, which just shows how firm it is,” he explained. “Then, on 18, I had 112 yards and couldn’t get a 9-iron there. You’re hitting nine iron 200 yards on one hole and 100 yards on another hole. It takes some getting used to.”
Twelve months ago, Laird found himself heading out on his own in the first group on the last day, admitting that “wasn’t much fun”. Playing in the final group this Sunday, though, would be a different proposition.
“Last year I went to The Open and thought I could play well and knew well that if I did I could be in the mix, but every year I feel like I’m getting better,” he insisted.
Laird’s late surge saw him finish ahead of Craig Doak, who led at halfway but finished joint-12th on ten-under after a brace of 73s over the weekend, claiming he played “awful” in the latter.
A cheque for around £50,000 was his career best, doubling what the Greenock man won in the Lyoness Open in Austria last year, but he insisted: “I’m not interested in money. It’s trophies I’m after.”