Martin Laird sure to feel at home in heat of battle

MARTIN Laird, the sole Scot in the 64-strong field, may be making his debut in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, starting in Arizona today, but the prospect of facing a member of Europe's Ryder Cup-winning team in Wales in his opening match at Dove Mountain is unlikely to faze the Glaswegian.

Laird, who is up against Edoardo Molinari, ironically a two-time winner in the home of golf last year, is no stranger to the events that sit just below the majors in terms of importance, having played in two of them since he won on the PGA Tour around 15 months ago.

The Scot should also have an edge on his opponent when it comes to playing desert golf, given that he lives in Scottsdale and, in addition to winning in Las Vegas, finished joint-third in the Waste Management Phoenix Open, another event staged in Arizona just over a fortnight ago.

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In his most recent outing, Laird shared the lead after the first round before finishing a respectable 25th in the Northern Trust Open in Las Angeles last weekend, cementing his position as the world No 41. He'll also get into the next WGC event, the Cadillac Championship at Doral in a fortnight's time, if he stays there, but is well aware that a good run this week could see him make a significant move up the rankings.

"Anytime you get to play in a World Golf Championship is special. These weeks are huge money-earners and present an opportunity for massive ranking points," acknowledged the 28-year-old. Laird began 2009 lying 268th in the world but, since becoming the first Scottish winner on the US Tour since Sandy Lyle at the 1988 Masters, he has come close on two more occasions to landing PGA titles.

Matt Kuchar came up with an incredible shot to beat him in sudden-death at the first of the FedEx Cup play-offs - Laird had three-putted the last - last August and then, in the defence of his Las Vegas title, Jonathan Byrd produced a hole-in-one at the fourth play-off hole.

"I'm not a goal-setter. My goal is just to get better every year and I feel like I've done that," added the Scot, who also has a first Masters appearance to look forward to in a few weeks' time. "The only thing I have felt has been holding me back has been my putting and since I started working with Dave Stockton Jnr it's been good.

"I feel like if I keep that up and keep my ball-striking where it was or even get it a little better I know I can move way up the world rankings and start challenging in majors and things. You look at guys like Kaymer and (Graeme] McDowell winning, it gives you motivation to be up there with them."

The winner of today's tie will meet either Luke Donald or Charley Hoffman in the second round in the Bobby Jones bracket, which also features World No 1 Lee Westwood, who launches his title bid against former winner Henrik Stenson.