Red-eye flight, not playoff finish keeps Baird awake

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Briny Baird finished 127th on the money list in 2010 and lost his card. His runner-up finish Sunday assures him a spot back on the TOUR in 2011.
October 10, 2011
Craig Dolch, PGATOUR.COM Contributor

Briny Baird didn't sleep a wink Sunday night, but it had nothing to do with being outlasted by Bryce Molder in their pulsating, six-hole playoff at the Open.


"I took the red-eye and I can't sleep on planes," Baird said Monday morning, already back in his Jupiter, Fla., home. "I don't think I would have any problem sleeping had I stayed the night in a hotel."

Baird had no reason to lose sleep over Sunday's performance. While he had two makeable putts in the playoff to win his first PGA TOUR title in 348 starts, what needs to be remembered is he played his final 10 holes, including the playoff, in 6 under. That usually wins the tournament for a guy who started the day with a two-shot lead. Problem was, Molder was even better, with birdies on five of his last seven holes.

Still, there were no high-fives or congratulations from fellow PGA TOUR pros when the playoff was over on a very long day. Blame that on the two-hour length of the playoff. "There was nobody there when I got to the locker room," he said.

But when he got to the San Francisco airport and ran into Will Mackenzie and James Driscoll, also headed back to South Florida, he got a sense of the show he and Molder put on.

"They were telling me how a bunch of guys remained in the locker room to watch the playoff, and how amazing it was," Baird said. "That was nice."

So was a late-night text from Hall of Fame basketball coach Larry Brown, who congratulated Baird and told him "you played like a champion."

"I texted back, 'Is this you, Coach?'" said Baird, who met Brown as a member of Jack Nicklaus' Bear's Club. "That meant a lot, coming from him."

Shot of the Day: Baird

Briny Baird's 38-foot eagle on the par-4 17th helped him get into a playoff at CordeValle.

And so did this performance for the 39-year-old Baird, a 12-year PGA TOUR member who has been stuck most of this season in the never-never land of conditional status. By finishing 127th on last year's money list, Baird has been able to play this season only when spots opened up, usually at the last minute and rarely in successive weeks.

"It's tough from a mental standpoint because you don't feel like you belong on the PGA TOUR when you're not playing when you want," Baird said. "People come up to me and say, 'Why aren't you playing this week? I thought you were on the PGA TOUR?'"

Baird doesn't have that concern for another year. His $540,000 runner-up check moved him from No. 148 on the money list to No. 93, assuring him of fully-exempt status for 2012. No more waiting to get into a tournament, especially the marquee events. No more playing one week, being forced to miss the next three.

He also got a $4,000 bonus -- the amount of money he had sent in for his q-school application three weeks ago. Of course, the refund pales to the idea of being able to skip that nerve-wracking event.

Just like the locker room Sunday night, Baird returned to an empty house Monday morning with his wife and three kids already in their weekday routine. He said he would probably spend some time on his boat -- he's an avid fisherman -- before eventually watching a replay of the final round and playoff. But there are certain things he doesn't need to see.

"What I will always remember is I was definitely the favorite among the crowd, which is obviously something I've never had," he said. "I think everybody understood the deal -- is this guy ever going to win?"

Yes, the big check enhances his lead as the player who has won the most money in his PGA TOUR career without a victory ($12.46 million). It's undoubtedly a statistic Baird will be reminded of until he wins.

"It's kind of a dubious honor," he said. "I've heard a lot of guys say I'm a really good player ... but I can't win. I guess I've kind of earned both of those comments. But I would rather do what I've done than be a player who wins once out here and is gone in three or four years.

"I've had a lot of good weeks where I've walked away with my head held high because I played well that week. I don't know if you can replace that with wins. Everybody says we're playing for trophies out here, but I don't think that's true. We wouldn't be playing golf if we weren't playing for money."

It has been a rough fall for Baird, the sports fan, because his two favorite teams -- the Miami Dolphins and University of Miami Hurricanes -- have hit hard times early in their seasons. "It's been miserable," he said. "At least drag it out for some of the season until it's over."

Baird's wait for that first PGA TOUR title isn't over, but at least he has another year of opportunities. He's skipping this week's McGladrey Classic at Sea Island, Ga., to be with his family and because, quite frankly, he doesn't have to worry about the top 125 any more. He hopes to play in next week's season-ending event at Disney World but, as has been the case all year, it's not his call.

He knows how close he came to finally getting that first 'W' Sunday, but he knows one other thing: "This will just make it more special when it does happen."

Craig Dolch is a freelance columnist for PGATOUR.COM. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR.