Defending champion Laird claims lead entering Shriners final round

When Martin Laird was in town last month to promote the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, he said he wanted to hold the Waterford crystal trophy again and end the tournament’s streak of six first-time winners.

He’s going to get his chance.

Bidding to become the first repeat Las Vegas champion since Jim Furyk in 1998 and 1999, Laird shot 8-under-par 63 on Saturday to take a one-shot lead over Jonathan Byrd at 19-under 194 entering today’s final round at TPC Summerlin. Laird is two shots ahead of Webb Simpson and Cameron Percy.

"Obviously I’d like to end that run (of first-time winners)," Laird said. "It’s such a great tournament for such a great cause.

"I think there was more pressure on me last year because I was trying to keep my (PGA Tour) card. But I’ll still probably be a little nervous at the start (today). I think anyone who has the lead is going to be.

"I know I’m going to have to keep firing away and keep making birdies."

As he has all weekend, Laird cashed in on the par-5s Saturday. He birdied two of the three and made a great par save on No. 16 when he rolled in a 17-foot putt after hitting his second shot in the water and taking a one-stroke penalty.

At that point, Laird was 19 under thanks to an eagle on the 310-yard, par-4 15th, where he drove his tee to within 6 feet. His eagle putt moved him atop the leaderboard ahead of Percy, who was in the clubhouse after a 9-under 62, the best round of his pro career.

"I made a slight adjustment on my backswing off the tee, and I’ve been driving the ball really well this week," Laird said. "(The pins) were back left, and I knew a nice solid driver would have a chance to get back there. I hit it really good, and it never really left the flag stick."

Laird came perilously close to giving it back on the next hole. His second shot at the par-5, 549-yard 16th failed to carry the water after his drive landed among the trees.

"That was the only bad drive I hit all day," Laird said. "But I made a nice putt to save par, and sometimes those big par saves are more important than a 15-footer for birdie because it keeps your momentum going."

The save kept Laird ahead of Byrd, who carded six birdies and a bogey (at the par-4 No. 10) in posting a 5-under 66.

Byrd, who carried a one-shot lead into Saturday, closed with birdies on two of his final three holes, including the par-4 18th, where his approach from 149 yards landed within 3 feet.

"I’m driving the ball well," Byrd said. "I drove it awesome — long and straight. I think I hit 12 of 14 fairways, which on this course is a great accomplishment.

"Right now, I’m just having fun playing good golf. I love where I’m at, and I just need to remind myself to stay aggressive and do what I’ve been doing all week."

Simpson, who lurked near the leaders with back-to-back 66s in the first two rounds, made enough putts to shoot 7-under 64 and move into contention.

Contact reporter Steve Carp at or 702-387-2913.

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