Molder claims first win in playoff

Sunday at the Open was big for unheralded journeyman Bryce Molder, but not for big guns Ernie Els or Tiger Woods.

The final day at the US PGA Tour’s Open was a big day for two of the tour’s unheralded journeymen, but a disappointing one for two of golf’s biggest names ever.

For while Tiger Woods, the undisputable World No 1 for most of the past decade, but now down to No 51 in the World Rankings, was battling his way to 30th in his first tournament in two months, and Ernie Els, owner of one of golf’s sweetest swings ever, was slipping back from a brief lead on the final day to 4th as his putting woes continued, Bryce Molder was fighting his way into the eventual play-off and winning it.

But winning his first title in 132 starts, didn’t come easily for the 32-year-old American.

He had to survive a nerve-wracking six-hole play-off against compatriot Briny Baird, a tour veteran who was seeking his first victory in his 348th start and was playing in his 5th sudden death playoff, before he was finally able to raise a victory fist in a mixture of elation, relief and exhaustion in the dying rays of the sun at the CordeValley golf resort in Northern California.

Molder outlasted Baird by birdying the sixth extra hole which his rival, who drove into some thick rough on the right of the 18th fairway there, could only par.

“I played really well,” said the 39-year-old Baird, one of the Tour’s solid citizens with nearly $12 million in career earnings.

“Obviously I am very disappointed right now. It’s upsetting, but I honestly thought I’d be standing right where Bryce is now.

“I had my chances, but I did some good stuff this week and I am happy with that.”

Molder, who closed with a faultless, seven-birdie, 7-under 64 to overnight leader Baird’s final round 67 to tie the championship at 17-under-par 267, was clearly delighted to have broken through onto the winners podium.

“It’s a little surreal right now,” the 32-year-old American said in fading light. “A lot of golf today, but it was a lot of fun.

“You practice and you work and everything, and you just hope there is some validation behind it. I got some breaks at the right time today and I am excited.”

American Bud Cauley, who only turned professional before the US Open in June, finished alone in third at 15 under par after signing off with a 66.

Els, a three-time major winner and three-time PGA Tour winner last year, remained winless this season after being tied for second place overnight.

On a day of low scoring he posted a very ordinary 68 and for a share of fourth place with American Shane Bertsch (64) at 14 under.

Baird, two ahead of the chasing pack going into the fourth sunny day at CordeValle, bogeyed the par-four sixth after missing the green to the left with his approach and was caught at the top by Cauley and Els.

Cauley rolled in a 20-footer to birdie the par-four eighth while South Africa’s Els was sinking a five-foot birdie putt at the par-three seventh to make it a three-way tie.

But Baird regained his one-shot lead by the turn after he managed to drain a 30-foot birdie putt at the eighth.

After that the top of the leaderboard changed hands often as the front runners battled it out down the closing stretch.

It was a surprise then when little-known Bertsch vaulted to the top with a 24-foot eagle putt at the par-five 15th, but he was soon caught by Molder, who reeled him in with birdies at 10 and 12.

Bertsch stumbled with a bogey at the par-three 16th after overshooting the green and Molder came through again to move two ahead with a birdie the 13th.

But Baird wasn’t finished.

He closed to within a stroke of the lead with a two-putt birdie at the par-five 15th before he spectacularly took back a share of the lead control with a chip-in for eagle at the short par-four 17th.

Molder, who had seen his putt for birdie horseshoe out on 17, had, in the meantime, signed off in style with an 11-foot birdie putt at the last to take the tournament into a playoff.

The rest, that marathon play-off, added a little history to the PGA Tour’s new season-winding-down Fall Series.

267 Bryce Molder* (USA) 71 67 65 64 (Won play-off at 6th extra hole)
267 Briny Baird (USA) 67 69 64 67
269 Bud Cauley (USA) 69 66 68 66
270 Shane Bertsch (USA) 70 68 68 64, Ernie Els (RSA) 69 66 67 68
271 John Rollins (USA) 69 70 65 67
273 David Hearn (Can) 71 68 69 65, Billy Horschel (USA) 72 68 68 65, Spencer Levin (USA) 71 67 69 66, Matt McQuillan (Can) 70 68 68 67, Brendan Steele (USA) 67 71 68 67, Josh Teater (USA) 71 68 66 68, Adam Hadwin (Can) 71 68 64 70.