Briny Baird grabbed the third-round lead at the Frys.com Open on Saturday to give himself a chance to become the USPGA Tour’s latest first-time winner.
However, the American, who has played 12 years and 347 tournaments without capturing a PGA Tour title, will have to hold off two players keen to return to the winner’s circle in England’s Paul Casey and South African Ernie Els.
Baird eagled the par-four 17th on the par-71 CordeValle layout on Saturday and even a bogey at the last couldn’t rob him of the lead after a seven-under par 64 for 13-under 200. He was two strokes in front of Casey and Els, Casey carding a 68 and Els a 67 to reach 202.
Baird takes the solo lead into the final round for the first time in his career. The last time he had a share of the lead going into the final round was seven years ago, when, he said, he played “so-so” and missed his chance.
“Unless you have an eight-shot lead, so-so is not going to cut it,” said Baird, who is hoping to emulate the feat of Kevin Na, who won for the first time last week in Las Vegas after 210 starts. “If I can feel tomorrow like I did today ... of course, if I knew how to do that, I’d be something.”
Els had taken a two shot lead with an eagle at the par-five ninth, where he hit a five-wood out of the rough to set up his putt.
He immediately dropped a shot at the 10th, and picked up just one more birdie, at the 16th, coming in.
Els has not had a top 10 finish all year and he only added this low-key Fall Series event to his schedule to work on his game and give himself more rounds with the belly putter.
Casey won the European Tour’s inaugural Volvo Golf Champions tournament in January. He has struggled with a painful foot ailment since May. He notched a victory in South Korea last week, but remains in search of his first US victory since 2009.
South Korea’s Charlie Wi and Canadian Adam Hadwin both carded 64s to join a group on 203 that also included Bryce Molder and Bud Cauley. Molder posted a 65 while Cauley, who left university and turned pro this year, shot 68.
Former world No. 1 Tiger Woods posted a three-under 68 that left him nine shots off the lead.
England’s Lee Slattery, who is battling to keep his tour card, fought off a latin challenge on Saturday to hold a two-shot lead going into the final round of the Madrid Masters.
The 33-year-old was passed by home favorite Eduardo De La Riva and Italians Francesco Molinari and Lorenzo Gagli on the front nine, but held on for a bogey-free 69 in round three at the El Encin Golf Hotel.
That took him to 14-under and two strokes clear of Australia’s Brett Rumford, who hit a four--under 68 and Gagli, who finished his round in 69.
“I just played really steady. I didn’t make too many mistakes,” said Slattery, who could secure himself a European Tour berth for next season with a victory here.
Ryder Cup star Francesco Molinari, Swede Oscar Floren and Argentine veteran Cesar Monasterio sit a shot further back.
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