SAN MARTIN, Calif. — It took Bryce Molder a long while to win on the PGA Tour, in more ways than one. A dozen years since he turned professional. In his 132nd Tour start. And, finally, on the sixth hole of a dramatic, dizzying sudden-death playoff over Briny Baird in which each player had multiple chances to clutch the trophy.
Molder made a 6-foot birdie putt on the 417-yard 18th to end his drought, win $900,000 and close the Frys.com Open suspense.
“You almost get past being nervous,” Molder said of the marathon. “You’re doing it so long you can’t be nervous anymore.”
Baird, 39, extended his Tour winless streak to 348 starts. He leads all current players with most earned ($12.4 million) without victory.
“I’m trying to pad that stat,” Baird cracked after his fifth runner-up finish.
Baird took away $540,000 and moved up from 148th to 93rd on the 2011 money list. But he wasn’t thinking about cash when he left.
“I’m more than disappointed,” Baird said. “I had my chances. You’ve gotta make putts.”
Twists and turns came early and often on the extra holes.
On the first hole of a playoff using Nos. 17-18-17 as an order, Molder missed a 22-foot birdie putt for victory just left on the drivable, 284-yard penultimate hole. Then it was Baird’s turn; he failed to convert birdie and victory from 7 feet at the split-fairway 18th after Molder missed from 15 feet. Baird said it was the only time he lost his concentration all day.
Back at 17, Baird drove the green, 57 feet away, and Molder backed up a driver than ended up 14 feet above the hole. After Molder missed just left, Baird saved par from 6 feet.
Baird looked good on the fourth extra hole – No. 18, in case you lost track – when Molder drove into the hazard between fairways and Baird hit the flagstick with his approach. But Molder made a crazy par, two-putting from 80 feet after an approach from an uphill clumpy lie. And Baird failed to close it out from 12 feet.
The drama continued on the fifth overtime hole with matching birdies at 17 after two more remarkable drives under pressure. Molder missed victory just off the left edge from 12 feet after Baird’s 18-footer broke an inch right of the hole.
“There were swings out there where it looked like it was his tournament or my tournament,” Baird said.
Bud Cauley, 21, who turned professional before the U.S. Open in June, birdied 18 and finished two shots back, alone in third. Hall of Famer Ernie Els (68) and Shane Bertsch (64) were three behind.
Cauley, a member of the victorious 2009 U.S. Walker Cup team, has made five of six PGA Tour cuts since leaving Alabama after his junior year. Cauley won $340,000, raising his total earnings to $671,150. That’s the equivalent of 114th on the money list, meaning he’s in good shape in his bid to become the first player since Ryan Moore in 2005 to come out of college and avoid Q-School.
Cauley had intended to take a red-eye flight to Georgia and try to Monday qualify, but now he can sleep in Monday. His top 10 got him into the McGladrey Classic.
For certain, more fellow players this week figure to know his story. On Saturday, playing competitor Els asked him when he was going to turn pro. Cauley told him that he did so in summer.
“By the back nine,” Cauley said, “he knew I was a professional.”
Els finished in the top 10 on Tour for the first time all year, but it wasn’t what he had in mind. He was held back by missed 6-foot birdie putts at Nos. 9-10 with the belly putter he switched to this season.
“I made a lot of good putts throughout the week,” Els said. “But I feel if I want to get to that next level I want to get to, I’ve got to start making those putts.”
Bertsch moved up from 174th to 140th in earnings thanks to a closing 64 that featured an eagle, eight birdies and three bogeys.
A 24-foot eagle putt at the 568-yard 15th vaulted him into the sole lead briefly at 15 under, until Molder tied with a 3-foot birdie at the par-5 12th. Molder then went two up on Bertsch and Baird when he birdied 13 from 7 feet and Bertsch missed a 5-foot par attempt at 16.
“Couldn’t quite finish off, but I played real good,” Bertsch said. “I peeked on that one (at 16). The green was pretty blemished and it just bounced.”
Baird pulled within one of Molder when he birdied 15. After Molder lipped out a 10-foot birdie putt at 17 in the group ahead, Baird went ahead by chipping in for eagle from 38 feet on the 284-yard hole. Baird’s heroics came after he hung his head on the tee, worried his drive might find water on the right.
Molder then moved into a tie with 11-foot birdie putt at 18. They went into the playoff after Baird missed a 27-foot birdie try at the last.
“I’m really trying hard to care less and free up my putter,” Molder said.
Whatever he did, it worked. After a long time.