ORLANDO, Fla. | Martin Laird of Scotland went from shocking collapse to unlikely champion Sunday at Bay Hill.
In the toughest final round on the PGA Tour this year, Laird rallied from a three-shot deficit with four holes to play with two birdies and two remarkable pars to close with a 3-over 75 and win the Arnold Palmer Invitational by one shot over hard-luck Steve Marino.
The 28-year-old Scot became the first European to win at Bay Hill in its 33-year history.
He just never imagined it would play out like this.
Laird's two-shot lead was gone at the turn, and when he pulled a bunker shot into the water on No. 11 to make double bogey, he already was 5-over par for his round and fading quickly.
But a day of survival for everyone else turned into a revival for Laird.
After a bogey on the par-3 14th to fall three shots behind Marino, Laird holed a 20-foot birdie putt on the 15th, an 18-foot birdie putt on the 16th, saved par from behind the 17th green and two-putted from just inside 90 feet on the final hole.
It was the highest score in the final round by a Bay Hill champion, and it took Laird's best golf to do that on a course that at times made it feel like the U.S. Open had moved to late March.
No one in the last three groups broke par, and those six players were a combined 19-over par.
Laird needed some help from Marino, who played beautifully until the last four holes. Marino took bogey from a plugged lie in the bunker short of the 15th green, then made double bogey from a plugged lie in the sand short of the 17th hole. He went from a one-shot lead to a two-shot deficit when Laird birdied the 16th in the group behind.
Marino at least gave himself a chance on the last hole with a gutsy play over the water to 8 feet for birdie and a 72. It was the third close call this year for Marino, who has yet to win on the PGA Tour.
Justin Rose closed with a 68 and tied for third with David Toms and Marc Leishman, who needed to win to get into the Masters.
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.
Phil Mickelson dropped three shots on the last five holes for a 73 to also finish in a tie for 24th.
Martin Laird (500), $1,080,00070-65-70-75--280-8
Steve Marino (300), $648,00071-67-71-72--281-7
Justin Rose (145), $312,00072-72-70-68--282-6
Marc Leishman (145), $312,00073-72-66-71--282-6
David Toms (145), $312,00074-67-69-72--282-6
K.J. Choi (95), $208,50072-64-76-71--283-5
Spencer Levin (95), $208,50066-70-71-76--283-5
Sergio Garcia (85), $186,00073-68-73-70--284-4