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.
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 Sunday, 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."
Doing that remains the trick, and not just for Baird. This is his 365th event in his PGA Tour career, and he still hasn't won. Baird had a chance two years ago at the Frys.com Open when he had the first 54-hole lead of his career and wound up losing in a six-hole playoff.
"I know I can do it," Baird said. "Knowing you can do it and doing it are two different things."
Nothing better to do
Stadler is 0 for 235 in his PGA Tour career, and he wasn't even planning to play Sea Island until realizing he had nothing better to do this week and that after next week in Mexico, the PGA Tour goes into a short winter's nap until January.
Brendon Todd is winless going into his third full season on tour. He had a 67 and was in the group two shots behind. Jason 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.
"It's a great way to finish and it puts me in a better position going into tomorrow than if I'd have just finished with pars," Baird said. "That would have made the work tomorrow considerably harder."
Kirk also had to rally late, though he made his three straight birdies in the middle of his back nine. After his short birdie putt on the 13th, he caught a break after an errant tee shot to right on No. 14.
The ball was on a cart path, and two drops that rolled down a slope and back onto the path allowed him to place the ball on the slope. Aiming around a tree and into the wind, he used the slope to accentuate his draw and belted 5-iron from 176 yards to 12 feet for birdie. He followed that with a two-putt birdie on the par-5 15th.
Kirk was one of the early residents at Sea Island until moving to Atlanta earlier, though he knows the Seaside course as well as anyone. He also knows what it takes when the leaderboard is loaded with possibilities, a similar situation to when he won in Mississippi two years ago for his only win.
"It's not like you can just go out there and play conservative and try to hold onto your lead," he said. "It's sort of anybody's game. Obviously, I'm happy to be tied for the lead right now because that's one less shot that I've got to go get tomorrow. But I've got to go play a really good round tomorrow, and hope that nobody plays a really great round tomorrow."