October 11, 2020 - 5:55 pm
Updated October 11, 2020 - 7:38 pm
Martin Laird waited seven years to return to the winner’s circle on the PGA Tour. The fact it took two extra holes Sunday just seemed appropriate.
Laird rolled in a 23-footer for birdie on the second playoff hole to win the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, holding off Matthew Wolff and Austin Cook for the title. Each had finished regulation at 23-under.
Laird appeared to be in control of the tournament all day, but he failed to get up and down for par on the 72nd hole at TPC Summerlin, dropping him into the playoff.
“This might be the best one, because it’s been awhile,” Laird said of career victory No. 4. “I’m going to really enjoy this one.”
Laird began the day with a share of the lead, and he took control when he holed out a bunker shot for eagle on the ninth hole to open a three-shot lead. His ball was buried just under the lip, and he looked to have no shot.
“I hit it as hard as I could, closed my eyes because there was sand everywhere,” Laird said of the shot. “When I turned around and the sand cleared, I saw it landed on the green and start trickling. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh we made it.’ That was obviously a shot I’ll always remember.”
It’s also a hole he should remember. For the week, Laird made three eagles and a birdie on No. 9, making him 7-under for the week on a single hole. That hadn’t been done on the PGA Tour since Hideki Matsuyama played the 16th at TPC Summerlin in 7-under during the 2014 Shriners.
“That green sets up for a fade coming in for me,” he said of No. 9. After a birdie Thursday, he hit a 3-wood to 4 feet for an eagle on Friday, then made a 21-footer on Saturday before the unlikely hole out Sunday.
“Yesterday and today were bonuses for me, but that’s what it takes to win out here. You need stuff like that to happen and go your way,” he said.
Wolff played himself into contention with a tournament-low 61 on Saturday. He stayed within striking distance throughout the final round, and he made his move on the par-5 16th where he hit a 375-yard drive and a pitching wedge to 15 feet for an eagle putt that he buried to get to 23-under.
“Every part of my game feels amazing right now,” said Wolff, 21, who also finished second at the U.S. Open last month. “I’m just looking to maybe get a win soon.”
Cook also stayed close throughout Sunday, and birdies at the 15th and 17th got him to 23-under. It was quite a performance for a player who has struggled for more than a year. His 2019-2020 season included nine missed cuts and no finish higher than 38th since June.
“It’s kind of an emotional day,” Cook said. “It’s been such a grind to get back here. Just being back in the moment, I loved it, and I can’t wait to do it again.”
Laird, 37, had been a force on the PGA Tour about a decade ago. He won in Las Vegas in 2009, and followed it with wins at Bay Hill in 2011 and the Texas Open in 2013.
He had reached as high as 21st in the world, but as he arrived at TPC Summerlin this week he had fallen to No. 351 and needed a sponsor’s invite to get in the field. He also missed most of the summer following knee surgery in June.
“It was pretty hard for a couple of weeks,” he said of the surgery, which came thanks to a torn meniscus in his left knee. “You’re kind of chomping at the bit to get back out, and then I was on the sofa for a month.”
The most surprising part of Sunday was the disappearance of Patrick Cantlay, the 2017 champion who took a share of the lead into the final round. Cantlay bogeyed four of the first six holes and played himself out of the tournament, eventually closing with a 73 to tie for eighth at 18-under.
U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau also tied for eighth, closing with a 66. He will now head off to his laboratory to tinker with his clubs and game before resurfacing in a month at The Masters.
“I feel like the advantages that I usually have could be much improved upon with the equipment,” he said. “We don’t have it yet, but we’re diligently working on it behind the scenes.”
Greg Robertson is a freelance reporter who covers golf for the Review-Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org