ST. SIMONS ISLAND
Making par from a tough lie in the bunker saved Briny Baird’s round. Closing with three straight birdies gave him a share of the lead. None of that will make Sunday any easier for a 41-year-old who has never won in 364 tries on the PGA Tour.
Baird and Chris Kirk each made birdie on the final hole Saturday to separate themselves — but not my much — in the McGladrey Classic. They were one shot clear of three others, with a dozen players separated by 12 shots going into the final round at Sea Island.
Warren JFK graduate Jason Kokrak stayed in the hunt with a 69, his third consecutive sub-70 round.
Baird has company in lacking experience winning. The top eight players have combined for seven career wins on the PGA Tour, and that includes four by Brian Gay. Baird at least has given himself a shot, though he no idea what it would take to win except for having a score that is “one less than the next best guy.”
“If I knew what to do tomorrow, shoot, I’d have won plenty of times,” Baird said after a 3-under 67. “I’ve always said Tiger Woods wasn’t 80 PGA Tour wins physically better than me. It’s just not possible to be 80 wins better physically, so obviously there’s some mental in there — more than some. It’s mostly mental, I would say.”
Even on a day when the wind was slightly more manageable, the mind was tested.
Kirk had a birdie putt on every hole and still was 2 over for his round and losing ground. He finally hit one close on the 13th, the start of three straight birdies, and capped off his round with a 25-foot birdie putt on the 18th for a 68.
Kirk and Baird were at 10-under 200.
They were one shot ahead of Gay (66), Kevin Stadler (65) and John Senden (68). Twelve players were separated by four shots going into today, a group that includes Sea Island resident Matt Kuchar and Webb Simpson, the former U.S. Open champion who won last month in Las Vegas.
Baird has been a runner-up five times in his PGA Tour, the last chance two years ago in the Frys.com Open when he had a two-shot lead going into the final round and wound up losing a six-hole playoff to Bryce Molder. That at least proved he could do it.
Asked what it would take to win, Baird flippantly replied, “One less than the next best guy.”
Kokrak has never won. He had a 69 and was three shots behind. The winner Sunday gets an exemption to the Masters. None of the top eight are exempt to Augusta National.
Baird boosted his chances with three straight birdies at the end — a short iron to 3 feet on No. 16, a 5-iron to about 15 feet on the par-3 17th and a shot that took a reasonable bounce toward the pin for the 8-foot birdie.