ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Here are 5 Things you need to know after the third round of the McGladrey Classic at Sea Island’s par-70 Seaside Course.
1. IT’S CROWDED AT THE TOP: St. Simons part-time resident Chris Kirk (68) and Briny Baird (67) are tied for the lead at 10-under 200, one shot ahead of Brian Gay (66), Kevin Stadler (65) and John Senden (68). Scott Brown (68) and Brendon Todd (67) are two off the lead.
Sixteen players are within five shots of one another up top, and 21 are within six of the lead.
“It’s sort of anybody’s game,” co-leader Kirk said.
Matt Kuchar (68) and Webb Simpson (71), members of the most recent Presidents and Ryder Cup teams, are four back, in a tie for ninth.
Kuchar, the field’s highest-ranked player, at No. 8 in the world, shot a third consecutive 68. They came in all different conditions – calm Thursday, blustery Friday and in a medium wind Saturday.
“It’s pretty amazing to do three straight rounds of 68, but I’m going to need to go a lot deeper than that tomorrow to catch these guys,” said Kuchar, a St. Simons Island resident. “It’s exciting to be at my hometown event having a chance.”
Simpson, winner of the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in his most recent start, double-bogeyed the par-5 seventh after driving into water right and three-putting. He closed with a bogey.
Stadler had the low round on a day when the wind blew 10-15 mph – a far cry from the day before, when wind was steady at 20 mph and gusted over 30. Stadler made four birdies over his last six holes.
2. COMEBACKS WERE KEY: Co-leaders Kirk, 28, winner of the 2011 Viking Classic in Mississippi, and Baird, a non-winner at 41, rallied late in the round after multiple bogeys.
Kirk, the 36-hole leader, was 2 over through 12 despite good ballstriking and admittedly was frustrated. But he birdied four of the last six holes, including three consecutive starting at 13. His bogeys came when he three-putted a pair of par 3s. He jump-started his round by sticking a wedge shot close at 13.
“It was just kind of like, OK, finally got something to go my way, and then it continued to do that,” said Kirk, who hit 17 greens in regulation but took 34 putts.
Baird birdied two of the first seven holes to reach 9 under for the co-lead. But he followed with two bogeys in a row and was staring at a third consecutive at 11 when he faced a plugged, downhill lie in a greenside bunker 37 yards away. But he blasted to 4 1/2 feet, saved par and felt like he “stole one.” Then he birdied the last three holes, from 3, 23 and 8 feet, respectively.
“I’ve hit good shots like that at the right time to keep rounds going the last two days,” he said, referring to the save at 11. “It’s amazing what that does for the psyche and keeping you positive.
“I don’t feel I’ve played fantastic golf this week, but here I am in a fantastic position.”
3. SHOULDERING WINLESS STREAK: Baird underwent surgeries on both shoulders last fall, the operations coming a month apart. After coming back too soon and suffering a setback in a couple of Web.com events in February-March, Baird made no PGA Tour starts in the 2013 season.
But he’s pain-free again and is trying to win in his third Tour start back and in his 365th career event. Playing on a medical extension, Baird leads active, fully exempt players with most starts and money won without a victory.
Asked how he’ll approach Sunday, Baird said, “Oh, if I knew what to do tomorrow, shoot, I’d have won plenty of times. I’ve always said Tiger Woods wasn’t 80 PGA Tour wins physically better than me. There’s a mental capacity in there. It’s mostly mental, I would say.
“I know I can do it. Knowing you can do it and doing it are two different things.”
He came so close at the 2011 Frys.com Open, where he lost a six-hole playoff to Bryce Molder and “answered a lot of questions” to himself.
4. AUGUSTA ON BROWN’S MIND: Scott Brown, an Augusta, Ga., native, won the Puerto Rico Open in March, but the victory didn’t get him into the Masters because it came in a lesser, opposite-field event. But visions of Augusta are back in his head now that he’s two off the lead here entering Sunday. The Masters actually was in his thoughts as he played Saturday.
“Absolutely,” said Brown, 30, who lives in North Augusta, S.C. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about it.”
Brown attended about 10 consecutive Masters starting in the late 1980s. His grandfather lived about 300 yards from Gate 6 at the Augusta National Golf Club.
Brown also caddied at the National for a couple of years as a teenager. He has played the course once, shooting 74 in 2005 while playing with member Jeff Knox.
5. SHORT SHOTS: Michael Putnam, 30, was announced Saturday as 2013 Web.com Tour Player of the Year. He won the money title and two tournaments. (Read more right here) … Statistically, Stadler has hit the ball the best this week. He ranks first in fairways hit and T-3 in greens in regulation. … Baird on his caddie Corby Segal, a 2012 U.S. Mid-Am quarterfinalist: “He’s accomplished. Sometimes it’s nerve-racking (for me), he’s so accomplished.” … John Senden, one of the game’s best ballstrikers, on playing in the wind: “I like it because it makes you work and be creative instead of just hitting a straight ball.” … The Sunday forecast calls for less wind, prompting some players to say they expect lower scoring and perhaps someone to break away from the pack. … Zach Johnson extended his Tour-leading streak of rounds at par or better to 17. … 2011 British Open champion Darren Clarke, who rejoined the Tour this year, stands at T-50. … McGladrey standing of the three players who played in last week’s WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai: Gay T-3, Boo Weekley T-36 and Scott Piercy T-56.