AND they say there are no characters in sport.

Martin Laird warmed up for his defence of the Valero Texas Open by playing a Pro-Am with a car salesman called Speedy Gonzalez - his real name - who talks to squirrels.

Braving Scottish-like winds and rain, Laird said he was grateful for the chipper company, even if the Texan failed to live up to his name when the group trailed home in just under six hours. "Boy, we needed Speedy out there as his humour kept us all warm," admitted Laird. "He's a real character."

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Laird will keep more illustrious company today after it was announced he will be paired with Phil Mickelson and rising star Jordan Spieth for the opening two rounds. Spieth won the PGA Tour's Rookie of the Year title for 2013, and has already gone some way along the path to qualifying for the Ryder Cup.

He said he was looking forward to playing with the Scottish defending champion. "I've played with Phil before but then haven't played with Martin," Spieth said. "After Martin shot that final-round 63 to win here last year, and given Phil is playing here for a first time, maybe we can both learn something from Martin how to play the course this week."

And when asked if he is still pinching himself at what he achieved last year, Spieth remarked: "Kind of as it was a whirlwind first full season looking back, as a lot was happening.

"My career certainly jump-started a lot quicker than I thought and now there is only more and more goals to set and more places to go and compete, so I have my goals set on what's coming up versus what's happened in the past."

However, the youngster ruled out making his debut in this year's Scottish Open as he will be defending the John Deere Classic.

Speedy Gonzalez, meanwhile, will no doubt be back in his San Antonio yard, hawking pick-ups. He played yesterday with a yellow ball, joking: "It was white when it started out."

He added: "I'm a member at the Dominion Club here, where I know all the squirrels by their first name and I've been training them to kick my ball back into the fairway."