Golf: Laird clinches a Masters spot

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Martin Laird and Rory McIlroy both had every reason to be cheerful today as they arrived in Augusta for the first major of the year after perfect results at the Valero Texas Open.

For Scotland’s Laird, a brilliant victory secured with a closing round of 63 was essential simply to claim the last place on offer at the Masters reserved for the winner in San Antonio.

For McIlroy, finishing second just two shots behind was comfortably his best performance of a poor season so far and boosts his chances of claiming a first Green Jacket and third major title on Sunday. “It’s unbelievable,” a delighted Laird said after ending the dominance of home players on the PGA Tour this season; all 14 previous events had been won by 
Americans.

“I’ve been asked probably 30 times in the last couple of weeks, ‘Are you in Augusta? Are you in Augusta?’, and I’ve had to say ‘No’ and every time it kind of hurt me a little bit after playing the last couple.

“So that was my major 
motivation, to try to get back into tournaments like that this year and this win goes a long way in doing that.”

Laird went into yesterday’s final round five shots behind overnight leader Billy Horschel and having missed the cut in four of his last six starts, but he stormed to his first title since winning the Arnold Palmer 
Invitational a little over two years ago. The 30-year-old Glaswegian began his charge with five birdies in his opening six holes to move into a share of the lead alongside Horschel, whose one-under par 71 saw him finish joint third.

And after picking up further shots at the eighth and 12th, Laird finished his brilliant round in fitting style with three consecutive birdies to pick up his third PGA Tour title.

McIlroy will hope to have ended speculation about his struggles with new equipment this season following his multi-million pound switch to Nike.

The 23-year-old carded eight birdies and two bogeys in his 66 and was delighted with his performance after only adding the tournament to his schedule at the last minute.

“Martin was just too good, 63 in these conditions is just phenomenal,” McIlroy said. “I’m really pleased with my game and I think this has been a great week for me.”

When asked how he has shaken off the form that saw him endure a woeful start to the year, he added: “Just eliminating the stupid mistakes that I was making on the course, mental errors, and to finish off this tournament in the way I did today is great going into Augusta.”

Ireland’s Padraig Harrington was one of three players to finish in a tie for tenth after a closing 70, while England’s Ian Poulter came joint 37th after a final round of 69, his best score of the week.