Martin Laird looked like a winner with an improbable par save on the 71st hole of the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, over the cart path, under the trees, between a pair of bunkers and an 18-foot putt.
He had to return to the par-3 17th in a three-man playoff to finish the job with a birdie.
Laird ended seven years without a victory Sunday when he made bogey from the fairway on the final hole at the TPC Summerlin, and then redeemed himself with a birdie putt from just outside 20 feet on the second extra hole to beat Matthew Wolff and Austin Cook.
“It’s been a while since my last one, and you have some doubts at times whether you’re going to get another one,” Laird said. “I just played so well all week. This week, tee to green, was probably the best I ever played. To see that putt go in, it was pretty special.”
It was the third time Laird has been in a playoff in Las Vegas, all of them involving three players. He won in 2009 for his first PGA Tour victory. He lost the following year on the 17th when Jonathan Byrd made a hole-in-one in darkness.
What made this special is Laird wasn’t even sure he would be playing.
While getting ready for golf’s return from the COVID-19 pandemic, he torn the meniscus in his left knee and had surgery, sitting out the rest of the season. He still had status that carried over because of the shutdown, but fell so far down the list that he needed as sponsor exemption for Las Vegas.
And then he made it pay off.
“Sometimes you come back and just want to be playing great right away. I knew it would be a process,” Laird said. “I knew it was trending the right direction and I was coming to a course I love. But I wasn’t getting ahead of myself, thinking I was going to come back and win as soon as I did. Just makes it that much sweeter.”
He was No. 351 in the world, the third winner in the last four regular PGA Tour events to be ranked outside the top 300.
Laird needed a pair of top-10 finishes in opposite-field events at the end of the 2019 season just to keep his card. Now the 37-year-old Scot is exempt through the 2023 season, and he’s headed back to the Masters in April.
The bogey on the 18th hole in regulation gave Laird a 68 to fall into a playoff at 23-under 261 with Wolff and Cook, who each closed with a 66.
Laird appeared to have everything going his way when he caught a buried lie near the lip of a bunker while facing a front pin on the par-5 ninth. He blasted away, turned his head and looked back to see the superb shot trickle into the cup for eagle. He played the hole in 7 under for the week.
It gave him a three-shot lead heading to the back nine. But he couldn’t hold it.
Cook never really went away, closing within one shot with a 40-foot birdie putt on the 17th and burning the edge of the cup on his birdie attempt on the closing hole. Wolff was never far away and arrived in a powerful burst with a two-putt birdie on the reachable par-4 15th, blasting a 375-yard drive on the par-5 16th and stuffing wedge to 10 feet for eagle.
Laird wobbled a bit down the stretch, but he delivered the winner at the end.
Patrick Cantlay, who shared the 54-hole lead with Laird, was the biggest surprise of the day. Cantlay won the tournament in 2017 and was runner-up each of the last two years. Fourteen of his 15 rounds at the TPC Summerlin were under par. He opened with four bogeys in six holes and didn’t make birdie until the 13th, closing with a 73.
U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau closed with a 66, and that was the worst he could have done. With a helping wind, he played the par 5s on the back nine in 1 over. He also bogeyed the last from a bunker.
He tied for eighth in his first appearance since becoming a major champion at Winged Foot, and he now goes back to the lab — or the gym, in his case — for the next month before resurfacing at the Masters.
Abraham Ancer birdied the last two holes for a 67 to finish alone in fourth. Will Zalatoris closed with a 69 for a three-way tie for fifth, leaving him just short of enough FedEx Cup points to earn special temporary membership on the PGA Tour. His next chance is in three weeks in Bermuda.
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