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Augusta’s rookie intake in 2011 were a particularly interesting bunch, led by a Scotsman who seems to fly under the radar

SOME golfers you hear a lot about for no real reason, for others the opposite is the case.  Martin Laird falls into the latter category. 

The 29-year-old has won the same number of times on the PGA Tour as Paul Casey, Rory McIlroy, Ian Poulter, Martin Kaymer and Graeme McDowell – albeit the latter pair’s are both Majors – and is safely settled inside the world’s top 50.

Yet the bookies had him down as a 150-1 outsider for Augusta.

After college Laird came through the Nationwide Tour in 2007 and then just scraped back on to the PGA Tour in his first year. The big breakthrough came at Justin Timberlake’s tournament where he not only jumped from 134th to 62nd on the Money List but also secured a card for the next two seasons. Sandy Lyle’s Masters triumph was the last time a Scot had won on American soil. Since then there have been two play-off defeats, the first at The Barclays, the second when Jonathan Byrd holed in one back at Justin Timberlake’s charity event.

When did you know for sure that you were in the Masters?

I qualified after getting into the Tour Championship in September. It was nice to get it out of the way and not have to sweat about finishing the year in the top 50.

What’s your most vivid memory of the Masters growing up?

I obviously remember all the Europeans winning in the early 90s but the one that stands out to me was definitely Nick Faldo beating Greg Norman in 1996. I loved the way he played and how aggressive he was and watching one of your favourite players have a meltdown like that was tough to watch at the age of 13. Norman was the big player when I started to watch golf, it seemed to be the big story every year whether he would finally win a Green Jacket but, sadly, he never managed it.

Had you been to Augusta before the Masters? 

I had been invited but had never been. I had met a few guys who were members and, had I asked, I’m sure I could have gone but I always wanted my first time to be when I played it. I’m glad I waited.

Did you go before to help with the so-called ‘wow factor’? 

I had one round in before the week, to help with the wow factor but also to familiarise myself with the course. Everyone I talked to says it takes a while to get to know it.

And did you seek out anyone for some advice?

I talked to Sandy Lyle. I know him pretty well as we have the same management. He’s obviously got a great record around there and he’s a great guy so I didn’t feel like I was bothering him by asking questions. Last year he opened with a 69 so he still knows how to get round.
I’m not very good when I don’t play very aggressively so if I have a chance to go for the par 5s I definitely do that. Is there a different feel on the tour in lead up to Augusta? 
That’s probably the case with all the Majors but maybe a little more before the Masters as it’s the first one. A couple of weeks before you see guys working a little harder on the range while some are still trying to get in. There is always plenty of talk in the locker room.

What’s your ideal threeball? 
Everyone who is there is playing great or is a past champion so anyone is a good draw. A Lyle or a Langer would be great or Tom Watson would be incredible. They are still trying to be competitive but are still trying to have some fun so that might help you to relax.

Your Major debut was in 2007 at Oakmont. Was it daunting?
It was maybe the hardest event I’ll ever play in and it is definitely the hardest course I’ve ever played. My Major record isn’t great so far with four missed cuts in five starts and the first couple were down to nerves. I played OK at the PGA last year and have been consistent recently so I am not just hoping to make the cut but be up there.

Do you feel people know that much about you in America? 
Hard to say. I live there but I seem to fly under the radar. I get good coverage in Scotland and am still very patriotic, I wear a saltire on my belt and my bag. It’d be great if one or two more Scots could sneak in and also make it to Augusta. 

What are your preferred tactics?
I’m not very good when I don’t play very aggressively so if I have a chance to go for the par 5s I definitely do that.
Obviously it depends on the weather, and how you are doing, but I don’t lay up from the middle of the fairway on a par 5.

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