Waste Management Open: Martin Laird takes the lead

Martin Laird acknowledges the crowd on 16 green during the third round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Picture: Getty

Martin Laird acknowledges the crowd on 16 green during the third round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Picture: Getty

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MARTIN LAIRD takes a three-shot lead into the final round of the Waste Management Open in Phoenix, where victory today will earn him a Masters invitation.

The 32-year-old followed up a brace of 66s with a 68 for a 13-under-par total of 200 to increase his overnight advantage by a shot.

One of his closest challengers is American Brooks Koepka, who won the Scottish Hydro Challenge at Macdonald Spey Valley in Aviemore in 2013.

Alongside him on 10-under-par are Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama and former Masters champion Zach Johnson.

Russell Knox carded a flawless six-under 66 to catapult himself into the top 10 on eight-under but it’s his fellow Scot in the driving seat with a round to go.

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“I’m feeling comfortable out here this week,” said Laird after staying on course for a fourth PGA Tour win and first since the 2013 Valero Texas Open. “After struggling last year I’m happy with my game and hope I can keep it going.”

Two-under for the day with three holes to play, Laird was in danger of dropping two shots in a row until he holed a ten-foot par putt at the 16th, where Italian Francesco Molinari holed in one earlier in the day.

“That was a big one,” added Laird. ‘You don’t want to make two bogeys in a row at two holes you’re looking at maybe making birdies on.”

He followed with a perfect pitch to three feet for birdie on the 17th, and finished his round with a ten-foot par save.

“My putting has been very good this year and I holed a few big ones today,” admitted the leader.

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In what is a rare occurrence, Laird found himself being out-hit by his two playing partners - rookies Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger.

“I felt like an old man in the group,” admitted Laird of the two 21-year-olds. “It’s been a long time since I have been the first one hitting every shot every hole.”

Victory today will secure an automatic Masters invitation for Laird, who achieved the same feat when winning the Valero Texas Open two years ago.

It would boost this year’s Scottish contingent at Augusta National to four as Sandy Lyle, Stephen Gallacher and amateur Bradley Neil have already secured spots in the season’s opening major.

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