Baird (64) leads Els, Casey at Frys.com Open

Briny Baird during the opening round of the Frys.com Open

Briny Baird during the opening round of the Frys.com Open

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SAN MARTIN, Calif. – Briny Baird has never won in 347 starts on the PGA Tour. He leads all current players with most earned ($11.9 million) without a victory. At 39, he has been left wanting over and over, for trophies if not cash, with four runner-up finishes the best he has to show besides his bank balance.

On Sunday, he has a chance to change all that.

Having shot 13-under-par 67-69-64–200, Baird leads the Frys.com Open by two strokes. That’s the good news. The challenging part, other than finding a winning formula after all these years, is that his advantage is over two proven winners, Hall of Famer Ernie Els and Paul Casey, no stranger to the world top 10.

The three will be paired together in the final group. That fact spawned a playful idea in Baird’s head.

“It’s gotta be good,” Baird said. “I’ll ask them what they’re thinking every hole. It’ll probably work two ways: I’ll get some good answers and probably drive them insane.”

There’s something else the three have in common other than the same pairing. All three are outside the top 100 on the 2011 PGA Tour money list. Els, oddly enough, has not had a top 10 all season, mainly because of putting. Casey has been hampered by a right toe injury since May. And Baird has been held back by putting and limited status.

Interestingly, Baird is 148th in earnings even though he ranks 25th in greens in regulation and 15th in total driving. But he’s just 144th in total putting and has made but 17 previous starts.

His 64 Saturday also was fueled by good ballstriking, crowned by a drive to 15 feet on the 290-yard 17th hole, where he converted for eagle before bogeying the last.

“I felt surprisingly in control of my golf game,” Baird said. “If I can feel tomorrow like I felt today, I’ll be a very hard guy to beat. And that’s coming from someone who hasn’t won on Tour.”

And just how will he approach Sunday?

“Whatever I thought those other (347) times, you can throw that out the window,” he said. “That hasn’t worked.”

And just how did he know what the number was?

“Someone brought it up to me (before his interview inside),” he said. “I’m not completely psycho.”

The chaser with the highest profile, Els, has won three major championships. Over those years of his prime, he has been a vocal critic of long and belly putters. But this year he switched to a belly himself because the putting path had gone bad and he struggled on the greens. The anchored club has helped him hit putts on an in-out-in path that’s easier to repeat than his former cut stroke.

“I’ve been outspoken about it, but right now I’m glad they haven’t banned it,” Els said. “But if they do, that’s fine by me. As long as it’s legal, I’ll keep cheating like the rest of them.”

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