ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - Britain’s Martin Laird overcame a dreadful start and his own demons to capture the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Sunday by one stroke over American Steve Marino.
The Scotsman’s second win on the PGA Tour came via a rough and tumble three-over-par round of 75 in the final round and was helped by Marino’s double bogey on the penultimate hole.
The victory will erase Laird’s painful memories of a blown opportunity at the Barclays in August when he three-putted the final hole and then lost in a playoff.
“That made me extra motivated because I wasn’t going to let a tournament like this slip through my fingers again by three-putting the last,” Laird told reporters. “It was a hell of a day, a very tough fight out there and I couldn’t be any happier.”
This time there was plenty of drama for the crowd in the Florida sunshine but, thankfully for Laird, a very different ending after a nervy start.
The 28-year-old , who finished with an eight-under-par total of 280, had a two-stroke overnight lead that evaporated when he played the first eleven holes at five over-par.
But the Arizona-based Glaswegian regained his composure with a birdie on the 12th and, although he bogeyed the 14th, successive birdies followed to set up the victory.
Marino, seeking his first PGA Tour win, was in the frame before he hit a greenside bunker shot on the 17th over the back of a treacherously hard and fast green for a double bogey.
“If I could do it all again, I would love to play that 17th hole again ... one hiccup on 17 cost me the tournament,” said Marino.
The American put the pressure back on Laird when he coolly drained an eight-foot birdie putt on his final hole.
Laird only needed a par on the final hole to secure victory and the thought of his failure in August drove him on.
He sent his drive into rough and while he found the green with his second shot he was still 87 feet from the hole.
There were no late shakes though as Laird stroked the ball to just under four feet and then finished off the job, releasing his tension with a Tiger Woods-style fist pump.
“I walked on that green and I was taking nothing for granted,” said Laird. “I definitely had my concentration as full as it could be - I wasn’t going to let that one get away.”
It was a good day for Britain at the Bay Hill course with Englishman Justin Rose shooting a 68 to tie for third with Australian Marc Leishman (71) and American David Toms (72)two shots back of Laird.
Tiger Woods, a six-time winner of the event, finished tied for 24th, seven strokes off Laird, after finding the water on the 18th to double bogey and finish with an even-par 72.
Phil Mickelson, the defending U.S. Masters champion, shot a one-over-par 73 to finish level with rival Woods.
Editing by Frank Pingue