British invasion at Sawgrass paired with hasty retreat

Martin Laird How He Got to Kapalua: Won the Arnold Palmer Invitational
Fred Vuich/SI

It was a Led Zeppelin kind of day for the U.S.-based Brits at the Players Championship — Good Times, Bad Times.

Good Times: There’s a Scot atop the leaderboard at Sawgrass after round one. If Glasgow’s Martin Charles Campbell Laird, now fighting out of Scottsdale, Ariz., stays there for three more days, he will become only the second Brit to win this event, joining countryman Sandy Lyle who triumphed in 1987. He is tied with England’s Ian Poulter, once of Milton Keynes, now an Orlando resident, after both players carded seven-under-par 65s.

Laird went to Colorado State, graduated with a degree in marketing in 2004, turned professional, and never went back to Scotland. It may have had something to do with the weather in Scottsdale vs. the weather in Glasgow. The 29-year-old is a big hitter and soft spoken, but he’s No. 39 in the world and has won twice on the PGA Tour, including the 2011 Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. He fired a bogey-free round at Sawgrass Thursday and is one of the growing army of players wielding long putters.

“Any time you go around this golf course bogey free is obviously a very good day,” Laird said. “I did miss a few greens out there from good spots in the middle of the fairways but managed to scramble. I putted and chipped really well. But the key to today's round was the putter, and any time I had a chance for birdie, I rolled it in.”

Even if Laird comes out on top Sunday, however, he won’t be showcasing his skills for Europe when the Ryder Cup rolls into Chicago in September. He has committed to playing in America and turned his back on the European Tour, which makes him ineligible for the biennial battle between Europe and the U.S.

Bad Times: Fellow Scottsdale resident Paul Casey has membership on both tours, but his chances of racking up a bucketful of Ryder Cup points this week were dealt a blow halfway through his first round. He played the front nine in six-over 42 and then withdrew with a sore shoulder. His presence next week at the Volvo World Match Play in Spain is now in doubt.

“My shoulder felt tender when I made my way to the first tee,” Casey said. “I decided to give it a go, but during the round it flared up. My recent schedule has been busy, and the lack of rest has taken its toll.”

Another ex-pat Brit fared rather better. Orlando-based Londoner Brian Davis is still searching for his maiden victory on U.S. soil and got off to a fine start at Sawgrass. The 90th ranked player in the world signed for a four-under 68 and is just three shots adrift of Poulter and Laird. Chicago resident Luke Donald, formerly of High Wycombe in England, traded five birdies with five bogeys for an even-par 72.