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Golf Tidbits: Laird earns his way to Augusta

Sunday's final round at the Texas Open wasn't the only thing on the mind of those battling for the title.

Nine of the top 14 on the final leaderboard also were trying to gain a spot in the Masters. Some of those nine have been there before, some were trying for their first trip to Augusta National.

Martin Laird has been to the Masters the last two years. However, he wasn't in the field for this year's tournament, until now.

The Scotsman fired a 9-under 63 to come from behind and win the Texas Open, and earn the last spot in the field for the year's first major. Laird carded five birdies in a seven-hole span on the front nine, and closed his round with three consecutive birdies from the 16th.

Nothing like grabbing the bull by the horns.

Laird, who won for the third time on the PGA Tour, stared down Rory McIlroy and Jim Furyk, among others. Though he has won on tour before, Laird is far from a world beater.

In fact, he hasn't finished ahead of many golfers this year. He missed the cut in four of his eight starts and in the other four, he didn't crack the top 30.

At the TPC San Antonio, Laird broke par in all four rounds, and matched the course record (63) in the final round. Prior to that, he had broken par in eight of 24 rounds on the season. He hadn't broken par more than once in the same event since the Humana Challenge, which gives up birdies in bunches.

"I'm obviously excited about winning this tournament, first and foremost. All the other things that come with it are obviously great, but having this trophy beside me is the number one thing," Laird said. "I get to add another win to my career on the PGA Tour, which is obviously very special, and being at the Masters next week is obviously going to be great."

Laird will head to Augusta National for his third Masters tournament, and his 14th major. This may surprise some, but this will mark Laird's 11th consecutive major played. His tie for 20th at Augusta in 2011 is far and away his best finish in a major.

Riding the momentum of a victory, Laird will look to better that mark this week. And if he putts like he did in Sunday's final round, it would come as no shock if Laird posted his best finish in a major.

ONE FALLACY SURROUNDING THE MASTERS

Come next Sunday, you'll hear the announcers and the analysts comment that the Masters doesn't really get underway until the back nine of the final round.

Some years, like 2011, that is actually true. Other years, such as 1997, it was meaningless.

In the final round of the 2011 Masters, birdies were coming fast and furious. Tiger Woods rallied to grab a share of the lead, but he was just one of many who could say that.

South African Charl Schwartzel birdied the final four holes to win his first major championship, and at the same time, he proved those pundits right.

When Woods won in 1997, he shot 4-over par 40 on the first nine holes Thursday. From there, he went 22-under par en route to breaking 20 Masters records, several of which still stand to this day.

If the Masters truly didn't start until the back nine that final Sunday, maybe some other players would have had a chance. In reality, they were all playing for second as Woods won the '97 title by a healthy 12 strokes.

PARK ROLLS TO SECOND MAJOR TITLE

Inbee Park was two off the pace after the first round, before grabbing the lead after Round 2 and never gave it up this weekend at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

Park cruised to a four-stroke win which would have been even bigger had So Yeon Ryu not fired a 65 in the final round. Ryu did her best, but it was Park's weekend.

Now a two-time major champion, Park birdied the first two holes in the final round. Her lead ballooned from three to seven in the blink of an eye.

Park, who also won the 2008 U.S. Women's Open, carded 20 birdies for the week, tied for most in the tournament. She had 114 putts for the week, an average of just 28.5 per round. With numbers like that, it didn't matter how the rest of her game was doing.

The 24-year-old hit 66 percent of fairways in regulation and 79 percent of greens in regulation. Throw those numbers together any week and you're going to be holding the trophy at the end if the tournament.

Another nice number for the South Korean: one. That's the number of three putts she had all week.

With four titles in her last 16 LPGA Tour starts, Park climbed to second in the Rolex World Rankings. At the start of the year, it looked as though it would be a two-woman race between Yani Tseng and Stacy Lewis to see who would top those rankings.

Make room, ladies. You have some serious company.

MINI-TIDBITS

* The weather doesn't look good for the first round of the Masters on Thursday with the potential for severe storms. Friday gets a little better, then Saturday and Sunday are supposed to have perfect conditions.

* No offense to the Web.com Tour, but why are you playing this week? That event should be next week so everyone can focus solely on the Masters this weekend.

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