October 10, 2011 in Golf
Bryce Molder, arguably one of the best college golfers of all time, needed 132 professional starts and six playoff holes to capture his first PGA Tour win on Sunday at the Frys.Com Open, defeating journeyman Briny Baird who has now gone 348 starts without win.
“It’s a little surreal right now,” Molder said.
An exceptional field showed up for the second Fall Series event including international stars like Ernie Els, Paul Casey and Angel Cabrera. Oh yeah, and some guy named Tiger. While Els and Casey were jockeying for the lead on the weekend, other notables were notably absent, including Eldrick.
However, Baird was there all along shooting rounds of 67-69-64 to get into the final group on Sunday alongside Els and Casey. While Casey imploded early on Sunday, Els stuck with Baird as did 21-year-old Bud Cauley and Shane Bertsch.
Molder, likewise, charged up to put himself in the conversation, shooting a final-round 64 to put the pressure on Baird. Molder held the lead as he walked up to the 72nd green.
A group ahead of the leaders, Molder sat at 16-under with Baird one stroke back playing the entertaining, drivable par-4 17th. With the ball in the air on 17 tee, Baird watched anxiously as his drive hit into the slope short of the green, but the ball sat where it landed, not rolling back into the water hazard that guards the green.
Meanwhile, Molder lined up a 12-foot birdie putt ahead on 18. Before Molder hit his putt, Baird chipped in from the front of the 17 green to leap-frog Molder, going to 17-under par.
Needing the putt for birdie and knowing it after hearing the roar on 17, Molder slipped his birdie inside the left edge to tie Baird at 17-under.
Talking to the Golf Channel’s Kay Cockerill after he sunk the tying putt, Molder said he liked being able to know the pressure of the moment and still converting. Perhaps a preview of what was to come.
Baird went on to par the 18th hole and force the playoff that would be full of great play and mediocre putting.
Anticipating a close finish, the people at the Frys.Com switched the nines that the members usually play, making the drivable par-4 that would be highlighted in the playoff the 17th hole as opposed the 8th hole, as it is usually played.
The playoff, which would go six holes, would be alternated between the 17th and 18th holes. From the beginning, clear advantages could be seen. With Molder’s smooth driver swing, he would land it in the middle of the 17th green while Baird was in-between driver and three-wood. On the flip side, Baird seemed to have the clear advantage on the 18th hole as he knocked it stiff on multiple occasions only to miss putts while Molder struggled getting his approaches close in the playoff.
While Molder hit his drive on 17 consistently inside 20 feet above the hole, Baird was getting up-and-down to continue the playoff. It should be said as well that Molder missed the same putt for the win on three different occasions, leaving his ball out to the left of the cup. For Baird’s part, he missed numerous chances on 18 to shut out Molder.
The first real advantage came on the fourth playoff hole (the 18th hole) when Molder’s drive found the cross hazard. Baird safely in the fairway had a birdie putt upcoming when it seemed Molder would have to punch out and play for a par. Instead, Molder muscled his shot to the front of the green and two-putt parred the hole. Baird was unable to convert his birdie putt and the pair went back to the 17th hole for another hole.
“I hit it in that hazard the first two rounds,” Molder explained. “And the second round I had a pretty similar lie, pretty similar shot, and I almost hit it in the exact same spot right on the front edge of the green. It wasn’t an easy shot. It certainly wasn’t heroic. I’d love to tell you it was buried a lot more than it was. I knew if I could just get a decent club on it, it would go somewhat where I was looking.”
Another swapping of birdies and it was to 18 for the seventh time that week. A new variant came into play as darkness was threatening to put an end to the day’s festivities. Ironically, it was Molder who held the advantage on the 18th hole. Molder put his approach to within a makeable distance of the back hole location while Baird under-clubbed and was left with nearly the entire green to negotiate.
Deemed to be away after a measurement, Baird knocked in his par putt to put the pressure back on Molder, who had seven feet for birdie and the win. Molder stroked the winning putt center-cut for his first PGA Tour victory.
Speaking candidly in his post-round press conference, Molder talked about how it felt to be in contention and be comfortable being there.
“It’s very gratifying. It’s a lot of fun to be in contention and want to be there,” Molder explained. “And to be honest, that was my biggest hurdle for the last few years is I’ve gotten myself into contention; and to be brutally honest, I didn’t want to be there, and I wasn’t ready for dealing with the nerves yet and the shots, and really the failure yet.
“And all of a sudden once you’re ready to deal with the failure, all of a sudden you can free things up and play, so that’s what I’ve been working on for a little while now. And it’s fun to be out there and hit some shots in those circumstances knowing everything’s on the line, and you really don’t care that much. And it’s a fun way to play golf.”
The silver lining for Baird was that with his $540,000 payday, he will assuredly have his Tour card next season, safely inside the top-125 after entering the week at 148. For Baird, however, the loss still stung.
“Obviously, it’s more than disappointing right now,” Baird said. “I thought I’d be standing where Bryce is. I had my chances. Given a chance, you’ve got to make putts.”
And he didn’t.
For Molder, along with claiming his first PGA Tour win, the 32-year-old cashed a $900,000 winners check and moved up 47 places to 108th in the world rankings. Both Molder and Baird will be in the field at the McGladrey Classic this week.