THE R&A may have been monitoring slow play at Lytham but, if Martin Laird had been put on the clock yesterday, they’d have got a contender for one of the fastest rounds ever played in golf’s oldest major.
Out in the first group – he’d slipped to bottom spot in the field after crashing to a 12-over 82 on Saturday – the Scot decided to play on his own instead of being accompanied by a marker.
It saw him whizz round in two-and-a-half hours and the fact he still managed to card a level-par 70 (finishing on 11-over for the tournament) should be held up as example by the golfing authorities. “I said to my caddie that we weren’t going out to set a record pace,” he said afterwards. “The Open deserves respect. I didn’t want to fly around in an hour and a half.
“I wanted to treat every shot as if I was in a much better position. But it shows that golf can be played fast and good at the same time.”
Watching were only a handful of spectators outside the ropes and a referee, scorer and scoreboard carrier inside. “He’s too fast for me – I’ve only got small legs,” joked the female scorer.
Asked about his decision to play without a marker, Laird said: “I just wanted to go out there after yesterday and get round quickly, try to salvage a score and leave feeling better, which I am.
“I did it [playing on his own] once before, two or three years ago at Bay Hill. It’s not an enjoyable experience because you never want to be the first single out on Sunday. But it was nice to get out and clear the mind of what happened on Saturday and play some solid golf.”
In fairness, Laird still has the same opinion of Lytham he had at the outset. “I love this course,” he confessed. “I really enjoy playing it – even after yesterday. It’s one of my favourite links courses, even after shooting 82 on Saturday.”
One-under at the halfway stage, the 29-year-old still felt in contention but admitted he’d been all over the shop. “Saturday was probably the worst I’ve ever driven the ball – which on this course you can’t do,” he said.
“I hit it in nine bunkers and couldnt get out to the fairway from two of them. It was just one of those days off the tee.
“In the first two rounds I didn’t play well, but I was missing it right so I could play with that. Yesterday I was missing it both ways and then you have nowhere to aim. I was aiming down the middle and hoping to hit it straight. Any pro will tell you that’s not a good way to play.
“The most demanding part of this course is off the tee. If you can drive it round here you can play golf but, if you don’t, as I showed yesterday, it’s just going to kill you.”
Refreshingly, Laird, who is staying in Scotland this week to attend a friend’s wedding in Kintyre before returning to his home in North Carolina, admitted he could probably have nursed his way round on Saturday and finished in the middle of the field but isn’t prepared to simply be making up the numbers in the big events.
Indeed, while it’s now looking increasingly unlikely that he’ll be able to force his way into the automatic spots for the Ryder Cup at Medinah in September, he isn’t giving up the ghost and has targeted a win in either the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational or the USPGA Championship in the coming weeks.
“I could have accepted hitting it average and taken a 10th-place finish, but that’s not why I’m here. I’m not here to scrap it around and be happy with a top 10 or top 20,” he said.
Regarding his Ryder Cup prospects, Laird added: “I still don’t think I’m done. If I go and win the WGC event in a fortnight’s time, or win the USPGA, it would be pretty hard not to pick someone who had done that.
“There are still three huge events [for him that will include The Barclays on the PGA Tour rather than the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles] before the team is picked.
“But it’s difficult and I need a win. I don’t think even three top 10s would be good enough. I need a win or a couple of close calls. But I’m not writing myself off. It’s not done and dusted yet. I came over here for two weeks hoping to play well and push for a spot, but it didn’t happen.”
How he fares in the coming few weeks will determine whether he’s back on these shores again later in the year for the Dunhill Links Championship. “I’ll wait and see what happens,” he said of that event.
Having finished his round before 10am, Laird was well on his way back up the road by the time the leaders teed off at Lytham. Tomorrow, he’s due to spend some time passing on advice to Scotland’s next generation of golfers.
“I’m doing a thing for the Scottish Boys team in St Andrews, so that will be fun,” he said. “It’s good to give a little back. I remember Paul Lawrie doing it when I was a boy, which meant a lot.”