Saturday, August 14, 2004

Baird in position for first tour win

PGA notebook

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HAVEN, Wis. - Briny Baird looks at the big names on the leaderboard and wonders whether he has a chance to claim his first PGA Tour victory.

Maybe he should look more closely at the history of the PGA Championship.

Three times in the past 16 years the PGA champion has been a first-time winner on the tour. Baird, who was tied for third at 8 under after two rounds at Whistling Straits, could be the fourth if he can pass Vijay Singh and Justin Leonard over the weekend. Ernie Els and Darren Clarke are tied with Baird, a stroke off the lead.

"I can't come in thinking I've got a great shot at winning," Baird insisted. "Because ... Ernie has a better chance of winning this tournament than I do, or Tiger (Woods) or Vijay - those guys, just because they have done it, and I'm still sitting here hoping to talk to you guys on Sunday. Until I do it, it's hard for me to say that."

But golfers have broken through at the PGA before. Jeff Sluman (1988), John Daly ('91) and defending champion Shaun Micheel all earned their first victories at the final major; it has happened only once in the other three majors combined over that span, when Ben Curtis won the 2003 British Open.

Baird has played in 148 PGA tournaments and finished in the top 10 13 times - most recently when he opened the year with a 10th-place finish at the Nissan Open. He was in fifth place after three rounds at the PGA in Oak Hill last year before shooting an 81 in the final round.

KEY STATISTIC: There are 300 Ryder Cup points at stake in the final tournament before the U.S. team is chosen.

Chris DiMarco holed out from the 14th fairway and shot 70 Friday, putting him at 6-under 138 and making him the leader of the tournament within the tournament - making the Ryder Cup team. A two-way tie for eighth Sunday, and DiMarco is almost certain to qualify by finishing in the top 10 in the standings.

Northern Kentuckian Steve Flesch, clinging to a Ryder Cup berth at ninth in the points standings, made the cut right on the number at 1-over 145.

MAJOR CUTS: Among those who won't be around are Davis Love III (79-69) and Mike Weir (73-73), who each missed a cut in a major for the second time this year.

Five former PGA champions missed the cut: Rich Beem (2002), Mark Brooks (1996), Daly (1991), Love (1997) and Ryder Cup captain Hal Sutton (1983).

Kenwood Country Club's Sean English, one of 25 club pros who qualified for the PGA, missed the cut with a 15-over 159.

Franklin's Frank Lickliter, a two-time winner on the PGA Tour, withdrew after shooting a first-round 80.

ALL NOT LOST: K.J. Choi overcame a triple bogey on No. 4, his 12th hole of the round, when he lost his ball in the left rough. He still managed a 71 and was in the large group at 5-under 139.

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