RENO — It’s been four years since Martin Laird last played in Reno. The time away didn’t hurt.
Laird, who tied for fourth in 2008 and tied for second in 2009, carded seven birdies en route to a 13-point effort in the first round of the 17th annual Barracuda Championship at Montreux Golf & Country Club Thursday afternoon.
“I played a very nice round,” Laird said. “The conditions were perfect this morning, no wind and the greens were great. It was ideal golf conditions. When it’s like that and you’re out early on Thursday, it’s nice to play well. Then you feel like everybody else is playing catch-up.
“ So, I’m very happy with my round. I’m a little disappointed that I missed that 3-footer on the last hole., and I bogeyed – my only bogey today – on the easiest hole on the course, a drivable par-4 (14th). Apart from that, I played great.”
Laird dropped in a 29-foot birdie putt on No. 2 and a 10-footer on No. 4. After three straight pars, he finished the front nine with back-to-back birdies, dropping in putts of 10 and 5-feet, respectively.
Laird got to 12 points with a birdie putt of 20 feet on the par-3 11th and he two-putted from 23 feet on the par-5 13th. He missed the green on the par-4 14th and settled for bogey, dropping him back to 11. He got back to 13 when he birdied the par-3 16th.
“Sixteen is probably the hardest hole on the course,” Laird said. “I hit a great 6-iron in there and it came up short, I don’t know, 30 feet and I made the putt. That was nice. That’s like a bonus. That hole played well over three this week, so to make a two there is a big bonus. I needed that one after choking my way down a couple of holes in a row.”
Laird would like nothing more than to cash a big check this week. He currently sits at 144 with three weeks left in the regular season, and needs to move up 19 spots to keep the season alive.
“You know I really struggled nearly all year,” Laird said. “The last few weeks I’ve really started to see my game come back. I’ve been working on some things that I worked on in the past, and I feel like my game is getting back to where it was, you know, 2012 and before.”
And what better place to mount a charge than at Montreux.
“I just like this place,” Laird said. “I like playing in altitude. I remember the greens being firmer. They are playing a little easier now. If they keep getting firmer as the weeks goes on, the scores will go higher. I looked forward to coming here, and it’s nice to start off with 13 points.”
125 OR BUST
Seven well-known players are fighting for their playoff lives with the Barracuda, PGA and Wyndham left before the playoffs.
Nick Watney, a five-time winner, is at 124, Mike Weir, 2003 Masters champion, is at 131, J.J. Henry, 2012 Barracuda winner, is at 132 and Trevor Immelman, 2008 Masters champ, is at 139. Jonathan Byrd, 2013 Barracuda runner-up, is at 152, 20-time PGA winner Davis Love III is at 161, and Padraig Harrington, a three-time major championship winner, is at 189.
The top 125 advance to the first week of the FedEx Cup playoffs.
THE HOLE REPORT
The toughest holes in the first round were the par-4 17th which played to a 4.265 and the par-3 16th which played to a 3.242.
The 17th yielded 12 birdies, 84 pars, 24 bogeys and 12 double bogeys. The 16th gave up just eight birdies, 86 pars, 36 bogeys and two double bogeys.
The easiest holes were the par-5 13th and the par-5 2nd. Both played under par. The 13th played to an average of 4.576 and the 2nd played to a 4.667.
The 13th yielded one eagle, 69 birdies, 49 pars, 11 bogeys and two double bogeys.
On No. 2, there were 57 birdies, 66 pars, five bogeys and four double bogeys.
One of the biggest galleries may have belonged to Stuart Smith, the club pro at Sommerset in Reno. Smith finished with minus-1 and in 112th place.
DID YOU KNOW...
There were 13 bogey free rounds .. There are 15 major winners in the field and five past RTO champs in J.J. Henry, Matt Bettencourt, John Rollins, Will MacKenzie and Chris Riley ... Former U.S. Open champ Geoff Ogilvy is making his first appearance in Reno ... Jason Allred is off to a quick start on the tour. In just six starts, he has a par of top-15 finishes, including a tie for third at the Northern Trust event at Riviera. He was also 15th at the Memorial ... Oliver Goss, who turned pro this year at the Travelers, was the low amateur at this year’s Masters. In four starts, his best finish is 55th at the Quicken Loans National. He played two years of college golf at Tennessee.... Since its inception in 1999, U.S. born players have won all 15 tournaments.