By John Schwarb, PGATOUR.COM
SAVANNAH, Ga. – Half the battle for Ian Baker-Finch and Bart Bryant was just to get to the first tee for the first round.
Baker-Finch could only watch during the week as a game of musical chairs developed for his Raphael Division partner at the Liberty Mutual Insurance Legends of Golf, as multiple players withdrew or were moved.
His final partner arrived a little after 10 p.m. on Thursday night, having never seen the course. Less than 48 hours later, they were champions.
Baker-Finch and Bryant won the 36-hole competition on the third playoff hole, the other half of their battle at The Club at Savannah Harbor. They outlasted former University of Houston teammates Keith Fergus and Blaine McCallister when Baker-Finch birdied from 8 feet on the par-4 12th hole.
“It’s a buzz every time you perform under pressure,” said Baker-Finch, who for years has spent more time calling tournaments than playing in them. “To win out here with all of the guys that I used to play with, it was great fun.”
Originally, Baker-Finch was going to compete with Eduardo Romero, but the Argentine withdrew due to illness. That moved Gene Sauers into the spot, but he was boosted to the official Legends Division when Russ Cochran was disqualified on Wednesday for missing his pro-am tee time. Jim Rutledge then got the nod, but he too went up to the Legends when John Huston withdrew with an injury.
And then, Bryant’s phone rang around noon on Thursday in his Orlando home.
“Ian said, ‘hey, if you want to play you can come play with me’ and I said ‘sure, man, I’ll do that,’” Bryant said. “I’m glad I came up. Ian was clutch, man, in the playoff. The last couple holes in regulation and the playoff, he showed his mettle, so it was a lot of fun.”
Baker-Finch infamously lost his game a couple years after winning the 1991 British Open, and all but walked away from the game a few years later when moving into television in 1998. To watch him play now, however, one would never know the backstory, especially on the greens.
“I made my decision a long time ago, I decided to spend more time with the family and work with television and I’ve made my bed and now I’ve got to lie in it,” he said. “I love to just have that opportunity every once in a while to come out. I can’t play anywhere near as good as these guys do, but every once in a while to come out and play in an event like this, it’s just a great thrill for me.”
FREE-FOR-ALL: If the conditions in Savannah on Sunday stay similar to Saturday, it’s anyone’s guess as to who will win the Legends Division.
Jay Don Blake and Roger Chapman lead at 17 under, but five teams are one shot back and four more are two shots back – and four past champion duos are among those.
“It’s going to be a shootout, that’s for sure,” said Tom Watson, who along with partner Andy North is in the five-way tie for second. “With any type of conditions like today, you’re going to have to shoot a 62 or better. You saw this course go down today because of the lack of wind.”
On Friday the low score was 62 by Brad Faxon and Jeff Sluman, but Blake/Chapman and Scott Hoch/Jim Gallagher Jr. both topped that in Round 2 with 61s.
INTERNATIONAL PAIR: The lead pair of Blake and Chapman seems a bit unusual – the Utahan and the Englishman – but they first met in the late ’80s at the Scottish Open at Gleneagles and have been friends since.
“When I came over here (to play the Champions Tour), I seemed to latch on to him and his wife and they’ve been very friendly to us,” Chapman said. “I asked Jay Don at the Dick’s Sporting Goods (Open) last year whether he wanted to play, I sort of tentatively said ‘just go away and think about it.’ He said yes straightaway.”