"Even though I didn't play that well, I still finished 36th on the money list," said Martin Laird, as he reflected on a year in which he earned more than $2m on the PGA Tour. By the Stateside Scot's lofty standards, however, 2012 was not a vintage one. There were the highs of second-place finishes at the Tournament of Champions and The Players' Championship but, in a season that had promised much, the campaign meandered to a fairly uneventful conclusion.
With two wins on the US circuit in recent years and a strong foothold in the top 50 of the world rankings, we had grown accustomed to the Glasgow man being the flag-bearer for Scottish golf on the global scene. Yet, as Paul Lawrie came hurtling back up the pecking order in 2012 to leave us observers cooing like turtle doves on an electric fence, Laird was dunted to the sidelines as his revitalised countryman barged into centre stage. A new year is the chance for a new start, though, and Laird has plenty of drive for the challenges that lie ahead.
"I was well inside the top 50 for a couple of years and you get used to being there," admitted the former Scottish youths' champion, who has slithered down to No.71 on the rankings. "I had the majors and all the WGC events because of that. I'm not saying I took it for granted but the fact that I'm not in there at the moment has given me that extra motivation to get back again. That's where I feel I belong. I should be contending in the big events. I feel I'm good enough."
Following the luxury of a month off, Laird, who returns to competitive action in next week's Humana Challenge in California, has had time to rake over the coals of a "funny kind of season". His runners-up finish in The Players' Championship, the so-called 'fifth major', demonstrated his abundant qualities and his ability to go head-to-head with the world's best but it was a chastening experience in the game's oldest major during the summer that has been seared on the memory.
Sharing 15th place heading into the weekend of the Open at Royal Lytham, Laird plummeted to last place with a ghastly 82 during the third round. It was the kind of turbulent, white knuckle ride that you may have expected at the nearby Pleasure Beach in Blackpool. "It went from bad to worse," he reflected. "It felt like the 18th was miles away and I was just trying to get there with as little damage as possible. But it's certainly not something I'll wipe from my mind. If you pretend it didn't happen, then you'll never learn from it.
"I remember three-putting the final green from 25 feet at The Barclays when I was leading [a FedEx Cup event in 2010 that he would lose in a play-off] but that three-putt helped me win at Bay Hill the following season. I had to two-putt from a similar distance to win and I did. That came from being in that position before and not doing it. It's easy to feed off good experiences but it's important to remember the bad ones. The Open was a bad one but positives can often come out of big negatives."
Having parted company with Mark McCann, the coach who helped mould him into a PGA Tour champion, Laird is upbeat about the swing tinkering he is doing under the guidance of Randy Smith.
"I was kind of stuck and just needed a new opinion and some fresh ideas," admitted Laird, who is looking forward to moving into his "peak years" having turned 30 in late December. "Last year, my iron game was not good enough. Usually the iron play would be something I could rely on every week and when that goes, then the game becomes very frustrating."
Laird joined the European Tour as an affiliate member last January in an attempt to make a push for the Ryder Cup but, having missed the first four months of points plundering, it was always going to be an uphill task to make it to Medinah. He will not rejoin the tour again until January 1, 2014, by which time European qualification for the defence of the cup at Gleneagles will be well under way. He will be playing catch up once again but this particular Laird has not given up hope of becoming a Monarch of the Glen.
"The Ryder Cup was not something I thought about as a distraction last year but, looking back, it perhaps was," said Laird, who already has pencilled July's Scottish Open at Castle Stuart into his diary. "I was maybe trying too hard. I added a couple more events and maybe got caught up thinking about it too much instead of focusing on playing golf. The affiliate route is tough but I do think I can play well enough over those eight months and make the team. Gleneagles remains a big goal."
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