MARTIN Laird has defended his decision to miss this week’s PGA Tour event despite the fact that it was his last chance to get into the Accenture-WGC Match Play in Arizona in a fortnight’s time.
A quarter-finalist in the desert event last year – he beat Paul Lawrie in an all-Scottish third-round clash before bowing out to Lee Westwood – Laird has since slipped to No 86 in the world.
He could still have climbed back into the all-important top 64 before Monday’s cut-off point for the Dove Mountain tournament but was discouraged from entering the AT&T National Pro-Am starting today at Pebble Beach by a “shocking record” at the Californian course.
The 30-year-old tied for 69th on the Monterey Peninsula last year, having missed the cut on his two previous appearances in 2008 and 2010.
“I added San Diego this year instead of Pebble Beach to my schedule as my record at Pebble is pretty much shocking,” Laird told The Scotsman of his decision to sit out the biggest event so far on the circuit, with its $6.5 million prize fund.
“For some reason I have never played well there so decided on missing it this year. I know it was the last tournament before the WGC Match Play but I really did not feel like it was somewhere that I would have a great chance at playing well to move back into the top 64.
“It is very disappointing not to be eligible for the Match Play as I absolutely love that event and had a good run in it last year.”
Scotland’s top-ranked player just over a year ago, Laird has now been overtaken in the standings by four of his compatriots – world No 31 Lawrie, 59th-ranked Richie Ramsay, 60th-placed Stephen Gallacher and Scott Jamieson in 68th.
Laird’s slide has coincided with some swing changes he has made with a new coach, Randy Smith, but the Carolina-based Glaswegian is confident it will not be long before he regains the form that earned him two PGA Tour titles, including the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill just under two years ago.
“My schedule is definitely looking a little different this year than the last few seasons right now,” he added in ack-nowledgement of the fact he will almost certainly miss out as well on the second WGC event of the year, the Cadillac Championship at Doral early next month. “However, it is added motivation for me to get my game going in the right direction and get back in the top 50 in the world rankings and back playing in all the majors and WGC events.
“I am trying to be patient right now as I would say my game is a work in progress after my coach change at the end of last year.
“It is still tough for me to take some of the changes we have made out on to the course, but I am looking forward to when that comes about as I am probably hitting the ball better in practice and on the range than I ever have. It’s just a case of taking those swing changes into competition and getting used to them when it counts.”
Having played in all four majors in each of the past two years, Laird is determined that run isn’t broken by him missing out on this season’s US Masters. He needs to get back in the top 50 by the end of March to secure his invitation back to Augusta and will be giving it his all.
“My schedule over the next couple of months is looking like being Los Angeles, Honda, Tampa, Bay Hill, Houston and San Antonio,” he said.
“That will take me up until the Masters and hopefully I will have either won or climbed back inside the top 50 in the world before the Masters deadline.”
Getting into that top 50 for the first time in his career is also Gallacher’s aim and, having partnered the Lothians man in the World Cup in China two years ago, Laird was delighted to see his fellow Scot return to the winner’s circle after more than eight years as he claimed the Dubai Desert Classic last weekend.
“I was obviously thrilled to see Stevie win,” said Laird of his fellow former Scottish Youths’ champion. “He is such a good guy who has been working hard for so long that he deserves to win a huge event like that.
“We had a great time playing in the World Cup and I was very impressed with his game then. He is one of the best ball-strikers I have ever played with, so it’s no surprise to see him winning a big event.”