Dunhill Links: Martin Laird takes gamble in bid to keep his European Tour card

Shane Warne and Liz Hurley at Dunhill. Picture: Jane Barlow
Shane Warne and Liz Hurley at Dunhill. Picture: Jane Barlow
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THE man who recorded his first big win in Las Vegas certainly likes to gamble with his Ryder Cup chances. For this year’s match at Medinah, Martin Laird started his qualifying big four months later than everyone else due to his affiliate membership only kicking in on 1 January, 2011.

He is set to be playing catch-up again for the next contest at Gleneagles unless George O’Grady, the European Tour chief executive, is willing to treat him as a special case.

Watching Europe pull off their stunning last-day comeback in Chicago last weekend has whetted Laird’s appetite for 2014. “If it doesn’t make you want to practise a little harder and really try to make that team, then you’re probably playing the wrong sport,” admitted the Glaswegian after signing for a 71 at Kingsbarns for a level-par two-round total in the Dunhill Links Championship.

The desire is definitely there. A problem for Laird, or so it seems anyway, is holding the membership, either full or affiliate, of the European Tour he needs to qualify for the team. This week’s event counts as his tenth appearance on that circuit, even though most of those are made up of majors and World Golf Championship events.

His only other tournament left this year is the CIMB Acia Pacific Classic, a PGA Tour co-sanctioned event in Malaysia at the end of this month.

It means the 29-year-old is going to fall three short of the 13-tournament requirement for players to hang on to their European Tour card.

By the strict letter of the law, he’ll be banned from holding membership of the circuit for 12 months. When the gun goes off for Gleneagles in early September next year, Laird won’t be able to pick up qualifying points straight away.

Unless, that is, he knows differently. O’Grady revealed recently that the pair had a lengthy chat during the Scottish Open in July. “Martin is a bright chap and I’m sure he’ll be sitting down and working it all out,” said O’Grady of that conversation. The European Tour supremo, however, has the power to give players written permission to become Tour members. He’s used that at least once already in the past, when Justin Rose was in a similar position, and Laird could know that his membership is safe for next year.

The way he was talking yesterday, though, suggested he will again find himself behind the eight ball in the qualifying race, though, on this occasion, he should only have a month’s worth of points to make up in the fight to make the European team in Perthshire.

“After this I’m playing one more event in Malaysia and then I’m done for the year,” he said. “After that we’ll sit down and figure out what I’m going to do next year. I need to weigh up everything, and whether I’ll join the Tour in time for the start of the Ryder Cup qualifying process next year will definitely be a consideration.

“(But) I’m always going to focus more on the PGA Tour. I’m a PGA Tour player, I live in America and my wife’s American, so it’s always going to be weighted in favour of American events more than European Tour. As far as how many I’ll play over here and what I’ll do next year, I’ve still to decide.

“But I need to get my game sorted out first. I’ve not been playing well the last few months and more than anything I need to worry about that than start thinking about the Ryder Cup in two years. If you start thinking about it right now you are probably in trouble. You get your game sorted first and then start thinking about it, not the other way.”

Fifth on his debut in this event two years ago, Laird is struggling to make the cut this time around. Since tying for second in The Players’ Championship, the unofficial fifth major, in mid-May, his game has gone off the boil. His putter, in particular, has turned cold.

“Today just summed up my year as I hit it pretty good but had four or five lip-outs and lots of good looks at birdie without making anything,” he reflected. “I have putted average all year, whereas last year and the year before when I got on that really good streak I was putting really well.

“It seemed like every week for over a year I holed a lot and when you look at the guys at the top of the world rankings that’s what they do.”

In the end, Laird didn’t really come close to being in the frame for Jose Maria Olazabal’s two wild-card picks for Medinah. Padraig Harrington, on the other hand, was a serious contender after the three-time major produced a strong run in the final few weeks of the qualifying campaign.

He lost out to Ian Poulter and Nicolas Colsaerts and, having watched one of them prove the European talisman yet again in the event and the other pick up a valuable point on his debut, the Irishman admitted he could have no complaints about missing out on his first Ryder Cup since 1999.

“I thought the picks were reasonably obvious and it would have taken a lot for it to go any other way,” said Harrington, who was also in action on day two at Kingsbarns, where he signed for a 73 to also sit on level-par for the tournament. “But I wasn’t sitting at home thinking ‘why wasn’t it me?’ I celebrated (watching the match) at home. I don’t really drink, so it wasn’t that kind of occasion. But I certainly got a buzz out of it. I want to get back in that team, but it’s up to me to get back up the world rankings to do that.”