|Martin Laird reacts to a par-saving putt on No. 2, before he gave away his three-shot lead at Bay Hill. (Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)|
All that stood between Martin Laird and victory at Bay Hill were two putts from just inside 90 feet on the 18th hole, which didn’t seem all that long considering what he already had been through yesterday.
First came a stunning collapse that took him from a three-shot lead to a three-shot deficit in a span of seven holes. He was three shots behind when he walked off the 14th green, two shots ahead as he headed to the 17th tee.
Laird knocked the first putt up to 3 1/2 feet, then jabbed his fist when he rolled in the par putt to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando, Fla.
“That was a hell of a day,’’ Laird said. “It was a battle out there, but it makes it even sweeter at the end when I got this trophy.’’
Laird was strong at the end with two birdies and two clutch pars to close with a 3-over-par 75, the highest final round by a winner in the 33-year history at Bay Hill.
That two-putt par on the 18th was just enough for a one-shot victory over hard-luck Steve Marino, who lost three shots on two plugged lies in bunkers over the last four holes. Marino followed a double bogey on the par-3 17th with an all-or-nothing shot over the water at the flag to 8 feet on the last hole for birdie and a 72.
Laird, a 28-year-old from Scotland who came to America to play college golf and never left, became the first European to win at Bay Hill. He now heads off to the Masters for the first major of the year, having felt like he just won one.
Justin Rose closed with a 68 and tied for third with David Toms and Marc Leishman, who needed to win to get into the Masters.
Tiger Woods, a six-time winner at Bay Hill, hit his approach into the water on No. 18 for double bogey and a 72. In his final tournament before the Masters, Woods tied for 24th, seven shots behind. Phil Mickelson dropped three shots on the last five holes for a 73 to also finish in a tie for 24th.
LPGA — Sandra Gal captured the Kia Classic in Industry, Calif., to become the second German winner in tour history, beating second-ranked Jiyai Shin with a 2-foot birdie putt on the final hole.
The 25-year-old Gal made the winning putt after Shin’s 5-foot birdie attempt caught the right edge and spun out.
Gal closed with a 2-under 71 to finish at 16-under 276. She set up the winning birdie with a wedge shot on the par-5 18th.
Tina Fischer is the only other German champion at the Asahi Ryokuken International in 2001.
Shin finished with a 73.
Cristie Kerr shot 66 to tie for third with I.K. Kim (70) at 11 under.
European — Paul Lawrie (even-par 70) won the Andalucian Open in Malaga, Spain, for his first European Tour victory since 2002 and sixth overall, holding off Johan Edfors (68) of Sweden by one stroke.
Nationwide — Brett Wetterich carded a 2-under 69 at the Louisiana Open in Broussard, good for a one-shot win over University of Florida senior Andres Echavarria (67). Fran Quinn of Northborough shot a final-round 67, moving into a tie for ninth.