Martin Laird recalls 'crazy' day with Tiger Woods on his Masters debut
Mention The Masters and Tiger Woods in the same sentence and most people remember either his first win in 1997, a chip-in from behind the 16th to set up another success in 2005 or his return to winning ways in majors two years ago.
For Martin Laird, though, it’s one of the years Woods missed out on the Green Jacket, having been in the same group as the American in the final round as he made a spectacular charge up the leaderboard at Augusta National in 2011.
Seven shots behind Tiger McIlroy at the start of the day, Woods stormed to the turn in 31, helped by an eagle-3 at the eighth, to move into a tie for the lead before a three-putt bogey at the 12th then a missed eagle putt from just five feet at the 15th contributed to him coming up short as South African Charl Schwartzel claimed victory.
“That was my first Masters and it could not have got any better playing alongside Tiger in the final round and for him to go out and play the way he played and to end the front nine sharing the lead. I can still remember every shot we both hit in that round,” recalled Laird.
“That was the craziest round I have ever been a part of in terms of the crowds that followed us around that Sunday.
“I will never forget walking from the ninth green up to the tenth tee. He had just holed like a 30-footer for par on nine and it was insane the amount of people as we could barely get through the crowd walking to the tenth tee.
“It was just the energy of the crowd and the noise. They always talk about hearing those Augusta roars, but that Augusta roar was with our group throughout the round.”
Laird carded a 73 - six shot more than his playing partner - to finish in a tie for 20th. “It was one of the most enjoyable rounds of my career,” he added. “I didn’t score the round I wanted, but I felt I played decent enough for what was my first Masters.
“The way Tiger was charging up the leaderboard and to have half the people inside the gates of Augusta National following our group is a great memory and something I will always have.
“It is the only time I’ve ever played alongside Tiger and it kind of even makes that memory better given here was Tiger on the charge coming from seven shots back and trying so hard to win.”
While Woods is absent from this week’s edition as he recovers from the leg injuries sustained in a car crash in Los Angeles in February, Laird is making his return in the season’s opening major after an eight-year absence.
“There is obviously a little different feeling,” said the 38-year-old Denver-based Glaswegian as he savoured the prospect of stepping back on to the first tee at Augusta National on the strength of his return to winning ways on the PGA Tour in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas In October.
“When you go to places like Augusta and St Andrews that have the prestige and the history as these courses have, you know it’s a special place. The whole feeling of the week in being at Augusta is a little different.
“Even chatting about it all adds to the excitement in the build up to the Masters, even though Augusta is one of those championship venues you just know so well from having watched the TV coverage each year growing up.
“I was really nervous on the first tee for my first Masters in 2011 and, while I know I will be excited in returning, I don’t think my stomach will be turning over. Hopefully, come Sunday I might have that feeling (smiling).”
Laird’s best finish in a major was that effort in this event a decade ago, having been in contention at the halfway stage in the 2013 Open at Muirfield before dropping out of contention over the weekend.
“To me, winning The Open at St Andrews has to be above anything,” he replied to being asked if he’d prefer to slip into a Green Jacket or get his hands on the Claret Jug. “I talked about that with Zach Johnson’s caddie shortly after Zach won the 2015 Open at St Andrews.
“I said to him, ‘hey, I have to ask you. You won the Masters and now The Open at St Andrews. What is the best?’ He said: ‘Winning The Open at St Andrews. It doesn’t get any better than that’.
“I know everyone else would probably say The Masters but nothing would beat winning The Open at the home of golf. That is how I would feel. To win golf’s oldest major at the home of golf would be so special.”
Laird is flying the Saltire this week along with 1988 winner Sandy Lyle and Bob MacIntyre, who is making his debut in the event after breaking into the world’s top 50 for the first time earlier this year on the back of a maiden European Tour triumph in Cyprus in November.
“He will cope fine,” said Laird of his young compatriot, the pair having played a practice round together that also included Russell Knox during last month’s Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Florida.
“When he played with Russell and I, he was very impressive. Not just his game but he seemed to be very strong mentally and I don’t think there is too much that fazes him.
“He seems to have a great mindset and that his head was screwed on pretty straight and he knows what he’s doing. I think for that reason, and more than anything, he will be a good player for a long time. He seemed very even-tempered and he knows what he needs to do.”