Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 10 July 2014

Brilliant Laird denies McIlroy

Martin Laird is now heading for Augusta after his victory in Texas (AP)

A stunning final round from Martin Laird denied fellow Briton Rory McIlroy from claiming his first victory of 2013 at the Valero Texas Open.

Laird came into the final day five shots behind overnight leader Billy Horschel but an unblemished nine-under-par 63 saw the Scot storm to his first title since winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational a little over two years ago.

McIlroy finished two strokes back on 12 under par but his runner-up finish should boost his confidence ahead of the coming week's Masters. The world number two showed flashes of his best form with an excellent closing 66 - a round that would have been good enough to take victory had it not been for the unexpected brilliance of Laird.

The 30-year-old Glaswegian made five birdies in his opening six holes to move into a share of the lead alongside Horschel, whose one-under 71 saw him finish joint third. Laird revelled under pressure and closed his sensational round with three consecutive birdies to pick up his third PGA Tour title and a victory that sealed his place at Augusta next week.

"It's unbelievable. 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," Laird said on Sky Sports 2 afterwards.

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

Laird's strong finish effectively ended McIlroy's challenge although the 23-year-old gave himself every chance of victory by picking up eight birdies, yet he will perhaps rue the bogeys he picked up at the fourth and 10th holes. He narrowly missed a 40-foot eagle putt at the last, but tapped in for birdie to guarantee second place.

"Even though I didn't get the trophy, Martin was just too good, 63 in these conditions is just phenomenal," said McIlroy. "I'm really pleased with my game and I think this has been a great week for me."

Veteran Jim Furyk, the 2003 US Open champion, and Charley Hoffman finished third alongside American compatriot Horschel after they both carded closing three-under-par 69s. South Korea's KJ Choi finished on nine under overall, which was good enough for sixth, with American pair Daniel Summerhays and Jeff Overton a shot further back.

Ireland's Padraig Harrington was one of three players to finish in a tie for 10th after a closing 70, while England's Ian Poulter came joint 37th after a final three-under-par round - his best score of the week.