In a week where the biggest story in golf was how far the ball is flying off the tee, it was a world-class short game that won the day at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. Martin Laird finished at 23 under on the week and beat Matthew Wolff and Austin Cook on the second hole of a playoff at TPC Summerlin for the fourth PGA Tour win of his career. It was his first since 2013.
Laird — currently ranked No. 358 in the world — got into the final pairing on Sunday by shooting rounds of 65-63-65 to start the week. On Sunday, he played the first eight holes in 1 under and lagged behind the pace just a bit. Then, he made the eagle of his life at the par-5 9th hole. From a fried-egg lie in the bunker next to the green on No. 9, Laird took a 200-yard swing and hit it to about 10 feet. Somehow, it went in.
On the back nine, he again played the first seven holes in 1 under, but this time it was an astounding par that kept the day alive. After hitting a weak shot into the par-3 17th, he needed to get up and down from the abyss (behind a tree, downhill lie) to preserve a 1-stroke lead.
Somehow — astoundingly, given the position he was in — he did.
After a bogey at the 18th pushed him into a playoff, Laird bested Cook and Wolff on the second playoff hole with a 22-foot birdie putt that fell for the victory just as the sun was descending over the mountains in Las Vegas.
Laird’s short game wasn’t the only reason he won this weekend. In fact, it’s probably not even instructive to think of it like that. Laird gained nearly 2.5 strokes per round on the field from tee to green. But it is humorous that on a week when all we could discuss was power and length that the three most memorable shots of the week came from about 50 feet and in.
It was also a reminder that golf is not just a long-drive competition, even if it’s trending more in that direction every week. Laird might not have flexed the same length Wolff or tournament headliner Bryson DeChambeau did this weekend, but he’s raising the trophy because he hit the less sexy but just as important shots over the final 12 holes of the tournament. Grade: A+
Matthew Wolff (T2) — After a mostly disappointing first half of 2020, Wolff has finished in the top five in four of his last 10 events (including two major championships). He’s up to No. 18 in the Official World Golf Rankings (eighteen!) and looks like an absolute menace on the course right now. All I could think as I watched him play his last four holes in 3 under and shoot 66 to close was how much he’s going to win over the course of his career. Grade: A
Patrick Cantlay (T8) — A very strange Sunday for Cantlay, who looked as if he was going to post yet another top-two at this event (he had three in three tries previously). Things unraveled quickly in the final round, though, as he had an uncharacteristically atrocious day from tee to green. He bogeyed four of the first six, lost nearly two strokes from tee to green and had to back door his way to a T8 at the very end. Did not see that performance coming from him after a tremendous first three rounds. Grade: A-
Bryson DeChambeau (T8) — DeChambeau was great other than a 71 in Round 3 that cost him the tournament. Still, what he’s doing — trying to hit it as far as humanly possible — is working, and it’s going to continue working for a long time into the future because this is the way you burn down events on the PGA Tour.
“It’s going to be just trying to figure more stuff out as always [from now until the Masters],” DeChambeau said. “I feel like my ball-striking was great this week. It’s just a little bit of putting here and there was sour, and I got to work on being more repeatable in my putting, obviously, even though I’m a great putter, I know I am. I’m going to be working out like crazy.
“This first week back home, I’m not really going to touch a club too much and going to be training pretty hard and getting myself up to hopefully around 245, something like that, in weight, be the first time I’ve ever done that. So I’m going to be consuming a lot and see and working out a lot and see what can go from there.” Grade: A-