ORLANDO, Fla. -- All that stood between Martin Laird and victory at Bay Hill were two putts from just inside 90 feet on the 18th hole, which didn't seem all that long considering what he already had been through Sunday.
First came a stunning collapse that took him from a three-shot lead to a three-shot deficit in a span of seven holes. He was three shots behind when he walked off the 14th green, two shots ahead as he headed to the 17th tee.
Laird knocked the first putt up to 3 1/2 feet, then jabbed his fist when he rolled in the par putt to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
"That was a hell of a day," Laird said. "That was a tough fight out there. It was a battle out there, but you know, it makes it even sweeter at the end when I got this trophy."
In the toughest final round on the PGA Tour this year, Laird was strong at the end with two birdies and two clutch pars to close with a 3-over 75, the highest final round by a winner in the 33-year history at Bay Hill.
That two-putt par on the 18th was just enough for a one-shot victory over hard-luck Steve Marino, who lost three shots on two plugged lies in bunkers over the last four holes. Marino followed a double bogey on the par-3 17th with an all-or-nothing shot over the water at the flag to 8 feet on the last hole for birdie and a 72.
"You just cannot afford to [waste] shots in the final round -- really, at any point in the tournament -- if you want to win," Marino said after his third close call this year. "Unfortunately on 17, that's exactly what I did. It came back to bite me."
Laird, a 28-year-old from Scotland who came to America to play college golf and never left, became the first European to win at Bay Hill. He now heads off to the Masters for the first major of the year, having felt like he just won one.
Considering all the calamity, it felt as though the U.S. Open had moved from June to March. No one in the last three groups broke par, and those six players were a combined 19 over par.
It was a day of survival.
For Laird, it turned out to be a remarkable revival.
When he pulled his approach from a fairway bunker into the water on No. 11 and made double bogey, he already was 5 over for the round. But while he lost the lead, he never lost hope.
"I never thought about not winning," Laird said. "When I saw I was three down, I didn't have a choice. I had to start playing some good golf. I had to make birdies. Steve was playing too good. That was really the focus. It was trying to get this trophy."
First came a handshake and congratulations from Palmer, the tournament host.
"It really doesn't get any better than to meet him coming off as the champion of his tournament," Laird said.
Justin Rose closed with a 68 and tied for third with David Toms and Marc Leishman.
Tiger Woods, a six-time winner at Bay Hill, was poised for a second straight top 10 until he made bogey from the bunker on the 17th and hit his approach into the water on No. 18 for double bogey and a 72. In his final tournament before the Masters, Woods tied for 24th, seven shots behind.
Birdie wins it for Gal
INDUSTRY, Calif. -- Sandra Gal won the Kia Classic on Sunday to become the second German winner in LPGA Tour history, beating second-ranked Jiyai Shin with a 2-foot birdie putt on the final hole.
The 25-year-old Gal, a former University of Florida player, made the winning putt after Shin's 5-foot birdie attempt caught the right edge and spun out.
"It was big pressure, she was so close to the hole," Shin said. "I was thinking I had to make it."
Gal closed with a 2-under 71 to finish at 16-under 276 on the Industry Hills Golf Club course at Pacific Palms.
Tina Fischer is the only other Germany champion. She won the 2001 Asahi Ryokuken International.