Bryce Molder knows better than most that there’s no sure thing in golf.
That wasn’t the case when he left Georgia Tech nearly a decade ago after being an All-American all four years. And it certainly wasn’t the case Sunday at the Frys.com Open in the longest playoff of the year on the PGA Tour.
Molder captured his first tour victory by making a 6-foot birdie putt on the sixth playoff hole to outlast Briny Baird.
”It’s a little surreal right now,” Molder said.
Molder and Baird were stuck in time, going from the 17th hole to the 18th hole in three cycles, matching birdies and pars, both players feeling at various points that they were going to win.
Three times, Molder hit driver on the 284-yard 17th hole over the water and had eagle putts for the win, each one a little closer to the hole than the previous one, all of them sliding by the side of the cup.
On the fourth extra hole, Baird felt like a winner when Molder drove into the hazard. Molder was able to get to the front of the green from the junk, while Baird’s wedge hit the top of the flag and spun back some 12 feet. He missed.
After nearly two hours, Baird blinked and Molder finally made a putt to win.
”You practice and work, and you just hope there’s some validating behind it,” said Molder, who won in his 132nd start on tour. ”I don’t feel I deserved to win. But I happened to settle myself down to play.”
The playoff was packed with plenty of drama, and so was the rest of the sunny day at CordeValle.
Tiger Woods managed to make news when a fan ran toward the seventh green as he was putting and tossed a hot dog in his direction. The 31-year-old man was arrested and never came close to Woods.
”I guess he wanted to be in the news,” Woods said. ”And I’m sure he will be.”
It was the 17th playoff this year on the PGA Tour, setting a record dating to the modern era that began in 1970.
Baird looked like a winner when he chipped in from short of the 17th green for eagle in regulation to take a one-shot lead. In the group ahead of him, Molder rolled in a 12-foot birdie putt on the 18th to close with a 7-under 64, which got him into the playoff.
Baird, 0-for-348 in his 12 years trying to win on tour, shot a 4-under 67. He twice had birdie putts on the 18th in the playoff to win, missing from 8 feet and 12 feet.
They finished at 17-under 267, and then looked as though they would never finish.
”Obviously, it’s more than disappointing right now,” Baird said. ”I thought I’d be standing where Bryce is. I had my chances. Given a chance, you’ve got to make putts.”
If there was a consolation for Baird, he earned $540,000. Baird, who started his year with conditional status on tour, was at No. 148 on the money list and now is assured of getting his card back for next year.
Bud Cauley, the 21-year-old who turned pro this summer, shot 66 and finished third to earn $340,000, which looks as if it will be enough for him to earn a card next year without having to go through the qualifying tournament.
It was the second straight week that a player won for the first time after a long drought. Kevin Na won in Las Vegas after 210 tries. Molder was regarded as a sure thing when he left Georgia Tech, but nothing comes easily on the PGA Tour. And as he found out in fading sunlight, noting comes easily in a playoff.
Woods had three rounds in the 60s for the first time in more than a year on the PGA Tour, although he finished 10 shots behind in a tie for 30th. In a year lost mainly to left leg injuries, it was his ninth and final tour start.
Cauley left Alabama this year to turn pro, and it appeared to be a smart decision. He is projected to be the equivalent of 114th on the money list with two tournaments remaining. He at least gets into the McGladrey Classic next week. Cauley would be only the sixth player since 1980 — and the first since Ryan Moore in 2005 — to earn a full PGA Tour card without ever going to Q-school.
Cauley was among five players tied for the lead at some point in the final round. As usual at CordeValle, this tournament was always going to be decided over the final four holes, which offer to eagle possibilities with the par 5 at No. 15 and the tees moved forward on the 17th, making it play 284 yards over the water.
Shane Bertsch surged into the lead alone with an eagle at No. 15 to reach 15 under, only to miss a short putt on the next hole. He failed to make another birdie and tied for fourth with a 64. Ernie Els also tied for fourth. He went bunker-to-bunker on the 15th and had to settle for par and closed with a 68.
Ultimately, the duel came down to Baird and Molder, two players looking for their first PGA Tour win on a course that tests the nerves because of so many possible swings in momentum.
Molder birdied three of the first four holes on the back nine to take over the lead, and appeared to be playing safe by laying up on the 15th and making par. His 10-foot birdie putt on the 17th spun 270 degrees around the cup.
In the group behind him, Baird reached the 15th green for a two-putt birdie to get within one stroke, then put himself in position for the win with a drive that narrowly cleared the water on the 17th and stayed on the bank.
Trying to get up-and-down to tie for the lead, he chipped in for an eagle — the second straight day he made eagle on that hole — for a one-shot lead. Up ahead, however, Molder recovered by rolling in a 12-foot birdie putt on the last hole to catch him.