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Mickelson confident in his striking with Masters on horizon
Newly minted Arnold Palmer Invitational champion Martin Laird sounded like he had just survived a stint as a POW rather than winning a golf tournament.
“That was a hell of a day,” Laird said after a final-round 75 at a too-tough-to-tame Bay Hill was good enough for his second career win. “That was a tough fight out there. You know, the golf course is playing very, very difficult. To be honest I didn't feel like I had my swing really all day. Pretty much hit it everywhere until about the last four holes.”
Laird turned a three-shot lead into a three-shot deficit in a seven-hole stretch before righting the ship with two birdies and two pars down the stretch, including a two-putt par at 18 that held off hard-luck Steve Marino, who was penalized by two plugged lies late.
The final Masters tune-up for many of the players was far from merely a feel-good fete for the King, who watched as the six players in the final three groups labored to a cumulative 19-over par day. The day took on a U.S. Open feel, as player after player crumbled under the tension.
Scotland’s Laird was leading that backwards charge until his late revival, for which he credited his driver and putter.
“The two clubs that have been good for me all week,” he said. “They have held me in all week and they really came through strong today. I couldn't be any happier.”
Making him happiest of all was one of the biggest honors the game can offer — a handshake from Palmer as Bay Hill champion. “It really doesn’t get any better than to meet him coming off as the champion of his tournament,” Laird said.
The results on the course don’t really show it, but Tiger Woods insists he’s ready for The Masters. Tiger finished bogey-double bogey at Bay Hill for a final round 72, but he focused on the positives in his post-round comments — in his typically tight-lipped way.
“Every day has gotten a little bit tighter, which is good,” he said of his retooled swing. “As I said, keep working, keep staying the course and keep working on the same things and each day is progressing. Today was really nice.
“This year, I felt like I've played my way into shape. I've played, I've kept progressing and early in the year was disappointing because the conditions showed some signs of weakness that I had to work on. Now, it's feeling very, very good.”
Meanwhile, defending Masters champ Phil Mickelson fired a warning shot that should get everyone’s attention: “As far as the way I'm striking it, heading into Augusta last year, I wasn't striking it well (as he is this year) and I had a great session with Butch early in the week and it kind of turned things around; whereas I feel very confident with the way I'm striking the ball (this year). I just have to shoot a number.”