SAN FRANCISCO — The traditional game plan for the U.S. Open is to tread lightly, be patient and accept that the course will sometimes get the best of you.
Martin Laird explained Wednesday that he doesn't plan to follow that blueprint. He is going to take the fight to Olympic instead of waiting for the course to land a haymaker on his scorecard.
"I want to play like I play," he said as a chilly fog reminiscent of his native Scotland rolled over the course. "As opposed to when I played in Opens in the past and tried to change my game to what I thought suited the tournament."
That means Laird — who won the Arnold Palmer Invitational in 2011 and this season has been a runner-up at both the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and The Players — is going to be aggressive, hit driver whenever he can and try to card a lot of birdies.
"If you go out on a course that's this hard and play defensively, you're still going to shoot three or four over, and you're never going to give yourself enough scoring chances," he said. "I really doubt that there's going to be more than a handful of guys — if any — who play a bogey-free round. Everyone's going to make bogeys, so you've got to try to make some birdies."
Making birdies is something Laird does really well. In fact, he ranks seventh on the PGA Tour in birdies per round (4.13). Soft conditions allowed many players to make birdies last season at Congressional, where 22 golfers finished the tournament with a score of even-par or better and Rory McIlroy won at 16 under.
Over the last 10 years, the winning score at the U.S. Open has been under par six times. The only two U.S. Opens during that period with an above-par winning score were in 2006 (Geoff Ogilvy, +5) and 2007 (Angel Cabrera, +5), so maybe Laird is onto something.
He is confident that his strategy can work at Olympic because it lacks nasty rough. Laird said the rough doesn't seem to be as high or as tough as it usually is at the U.S. Open, and he's also noticed that it's possible on many holes to run the ball onto the green instead of needing to carry bunkers or water. Knowing that, the seemingly risky decision to smack a driver might actually be a smarter play than a 3-wood off the tee.
"If you've got an 8- or a 9-iron, you can chop it up onto the greens here," Laird said. "Whereas if you hit 3-wood into the rough and then have a 5-iron or 6-iron, you've got no chance. So for that reason I think that this course sets up in such a way that if you play aggressively, you're going to give yourself more birdie looks and fewer chances to make bogey than other U.S. Open courses. If that makes sense."
In a damn-the-torpedoes, full-speed-ahead kind of way, it does.