PARAMUS, N.J. – Martin Laird suspected that four straight birdies early in the round and no bogeys had put him in the lead Saturday at The Barclays. When he finally glanced at a leaderboard, it gave him quite a jolt.
And it had nothing to do with the size of his three-shot lead.
The board occasionally shows the projected FedEx Cup standings. Laird, who started these playoffs at No. 95 and was hopeful of reaching the second round, saw his name at No. 1.
“I didn’t think I’d come in here and move that much,” Laird said after his 6-under 65. “I caught a glimpse of the projected FedEx Cup and I got a little shock.”
It was a not-so-subtle reminder that winning goes a long way in these playoffs, and Laird put himself in a great spot. He was at 12-under 201, three shots clear of Dustin Johnson and Jason Day with one round left at Ridgewood Country Club.
A victory for the 27-year-old Scot would move him to No. 1, assuring him a spot in all four majors next year, and making him a serious contender for the $10 million FedEx Cup payoff.
Tiger Woods also has something at stake Sunday, but it most likely won’t be a trophy. After missing only one fairway in each of the first two rounds, Woods hit his opening tee shot off the property and took triple bogey. He couldn’t get those three shots back and shot 72, putting him nine shots behind. He needs a steady final round just to advance to second round next week outside Boston.
For Johnson, who has found nothing but hard luck in the majors this year, it will be his second straight tournament playing in the final group. So much for that hangover from the PGA Championship, where he was penalized two shots on the final hole when he didn’t realize he was in a bunker at Whistling Straits, knocking him out of a playoff.
Johnson, struggling with a cold and his swing earlier in the week, began to hit his stride on a sunny day in northern New Jersey. On the 616-yard 13th hole, he blasted a 3-wood to about 15 feet for eagle, and added consecutive birdies a short time later on his way to a 64 that gave him a chance to win.
“I definitely put myself into the hunt,” Johnson said.
The good news? Everyone knows what a bunker looks like at Ridgewood.
Day remains in the hunt, too, although he didn’t help himself on a day for scoring at Ridgewood. The 22-year-old Australian regained the lead by chipping for eagle on the short par-4 fifth hole, but he simply missed too many putts and struggled enough with his driver – he hit only four fairways – to give it away. Day made five bogeys, one of them on a par 5 on the back nine, and had to settle for a 70.
“Just hit more fairways and I’ll be able to set myself up better at making birdies,” Day said.
Adam Scott birdied the 18th hole for a 68 and was four shots behind.
On the day before European captain Colin Montgomerie announces his three captain’s picks, it might be pleasing to see a fellow Scot atop the leaderboard against such a strong field. Too bad it’s Laird, who played college golf at Colorado State and never left the American golf circuits. Plus, he has played so poorly all year that he’s not even thinking about the Ryder Cup.
Laird was simply trying to get into the top 125 in the FedEx Cup standings to qualify for the playoffs, and he’s moving up quickly.
Justin Rose, in his final round before Montgomerie makes his captain’s picks, went off early having narrowly made the cut and shot 65 to join the group at 7-under 206 that included Ryan Palmer, Matt Kuchar, John Senden, Vaughn Taylor and Kevin Streelman.
“I think it’s a tight selection process,” said Rose, who has been quiet since wins at the Memorial and AT&T National. “It’s just been nice to make a little bit of noise and shoot a great round to show him my game is there. I didn’t go out there to prove anything today. But I’m glad that it worked out. I think it’s a timely round of golf.
Woods was in a tie for 28th, continuing his slide since he opened with a 65 to share the first-round lead.
Four shots behind to start the third round, his 3-wood went straight up in the air, then straight left, over the trees and out-of-bounds. He had to hit another tee shot, then missed a short putt and took triple bogey. Woods went out in 39 after a bogey on the ninth before he began another reclamation project – birdies on the par 5s, and a 7-iron to 8 feet on the 18th hole for another birdie.
The top 100 in the standings – Woods is at No. 112 – make it to the Deutsche Bank Championship, which donates its proceeds to the Tiger Woods Foundation. Woods likely will need something around par in the final round to get there.
Laird has much higher hopes.