By John Schwarb, PGATOUR.COM
SAN FRANCISCO – A year ago, Jay Don Blake was watching the Charles Schwab Cup Championship from his couch with a Diet Coke and a doughnut. He wasn’t eligible to compete.
This year, he’s not only eligible, he’s in the driver’s seat to possibly win.
Blake shot a 5-under 66 at TPC Harding Park Saturday in Round 3 to take over the top spot on the leaderboard, two shots clear of local favorite Michael Allen, David Frost and Jay Haas.
His round included five birdies and no bogeys.
“Just kind of what you want to do around here is try to eliminate the big mistakes. I did that pretty well,” Blake said.
A win Sunday would be the biggest of Blake’s career, and on the Champions Tour would lift him into another stratosphere of players – multiple-event winners. Not bad for a player who two months ago wasn’t even fully exempt on Tour.
Blake has held the journeyman’s label his entire career, winning just once on the PGA TOUR, at the 1991 Shearson Lehman Brothers Open at Torrey Pines. He was a regular on Tour from 1987 to 2004, then walked away well before age 50 due to persistent back pain.
“I couldn’t practice like I wanted to or perform like I felt like I should be able to,” said Blake, a Utah native. “I thought, I’ve got to back away, try to analyze my life, see what I’ve got going on. I finally decided to just get some help and get it taken care of.”
Blake never had back surgery, but spent three years stretching and manipulating his back and pelvic area into shape. He then gave it a go on the 50-and-over circuit, and had to fight and scratch for his place on Tour.
He finished eighth at the 2008 q-school, which made him conditionally exempt. He played 12 events in 2009 including three off open qualifiers, with a best finish of T4 at the Regions Charity Classic, at which he had a sponsor’s exemption.
In 2010 he played 15 events, four off qualifiers, and earned temporary exempt status from the reshuffle along the way. He had a third-place finish at the Senior Open Championship and finished 34th on the money list.
That still didn’t earn him a fully exempt spot on Tour. He sat in a golf cart on the first tee at the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf as a first alternate, and also missed the Toshiba Classic and U.S. Senior Open. All the while though he was playing well, losing in a playoff to John Cook at the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am and piling up top-10s.
Finally, at the Songdo IBD Championship in mid-September, he won.
“It’s given me quite a bit of confidence, knowing that I feel like I belong and I can win out here,” Blake said. “I feel like I got to work hard to do that. It’s nice to have that win and then see if you can add to that.”
He’ll see on Sunday, playing in the final group with Jay Haas.