Martin Laird facing Dunhill Links dilemma

MARTIN Laird's hopes of playing in the Dunhill Links Championship for the second year running have been put in doubt by a clash of dates that has left Scotland's highest-ranked golfer with a major dilemma.

Next year the pro-am event at St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns is being held the same week as the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospital for Children Open, which Laird won last year in Las Vegas and came close to defending in October, losing in a play-off to Jonathan Byrd.

"I have noticed that the Dunhill Links is the same week as the Las Vegas next year and I was extremely disappointed to see that," the 28-year-old told The Scotsman. "I had such a great time playing in the Dunhill Links for the first time this year and was looking forward to hopefully making a return trip next year for the event."

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Making his debut in the European Tour event, Laird tied for fifth behind Martin Kaymer in October, closing with a 67 over the Old Course as he partially eased the pain of missing the cut in the Open Championship at St Andrews earlier in the year.

"I played well this year at the Dunhill Links and love playing links golf anytime I get a chance, especially over three courses as great as the ones in that rotation," he added. "I am not sure what I will do next year as far as that week is concerned, I obviously love the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open and feel very comfortable on that course so it will be a tough decision. It is just an unfortunate situation as I would have definitely had both events on my schedule if they were not on the same week."

Much of that schedule, particularly in the early part of the season, has already been mapped out as Laird, who was back in Scotland recently on a pre-Christmas visit to see his parents but has since returned to Scottsdale in Arizona to start his preparations for the 2011 campaign, gears up for an exciting year.

Thanks to his efforts in 2010 - the Glaswegian climbed from outside the top 100 to 50th in the world - he has secured spots in all four majors as well as the WGC events and is determined to make his presence felt along the way. "I have a fair idea what I am going to play up until the Masters tournament. I will start at The Hope (in the third week of January), then play in San Diego, Phoenix, LA, the WGC-Matchplay, WGC-Doral, Transitions Championship, Bay Hill and then Augusta," he said.

"After that I am not 100 per cent sure on what I will play, a lot will depend on how my game is and how my year has been up until that stage.I want to make sure that I am peaking and ready to play in all the majors and WGC events next year as I feel like my game is now at the stage where I can start to be a factor at tournaments of that level."

Laird said 2010 had been a "good year" and was close to being a "brilliant one". He finished fourth in the PGA Tour's opening event in Hawaii but, as had been the case in his two previous campaigns on the circuit, the Scot saved his best golf for the second half of the year.

He was pipped in a play-off by Matt Kuchar in the Barclays Championship, the opening event in the FedEx Cup play-off series, before mounting a terrific defence of his title in Las Vegas, where it took a hole-in-one from Byrd at the fourth extra hole to come out on top.

"I was two play-offs away from winning two times, one of them being in one of the strongest fields of the year," reflected Laird, who earned more than $2 million during the season and has now banked $4.3 million in his three seasons on the US circuit. "It is a good sign when it takes a hole-in-one and a remarkable recovery shot from Kuchar at the Barclays to lose.

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"I was disappointed with how my year went up until the summer and that is what I am hoping to change next year. Traditionally, I have struggled a little bit with my game until about June or July, but I have a lot more confidence going into next year and really feel like I can get off to a strong start and challenge for tournaments early in the year.

"A lot of this comes from my drastic putting improvements in the second half of the year since I started working with (short-game coaches] the Stocktons (Dave and Dave Jnr]. I feel like that was what always held me back at the start of the year.

"I don't really have specific goals for 2011, just the one goal of getting better every year. I am looking forward to playing a very competitive schedule in 2011 and giving myself more opportunities to win, hopefully I can turn those near misses from this year into wins next year."