Baird, Gay share lead at Sea Island
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. — Heavy fog allowed Brian Gay a quick nap, and he no longer felt so sluggish after traveling halfway around the world from Shanghai to Sea Island.
Gay had enough energy Thursday to make eight birdies on his way to a 7-under 63, giving him a share of the lead with Briny Baird among early starters in the McGladrey Classic. The opening round could not be completed because of a fog delay lasting nearly two hours.
Once the sun burned off the fog, the Seaside course was a pushover with virtually no wind. George McNeill ran off five straight birdies and was 8 under with two hole remaining. Will MacKenzie reached 7 under through 16 holes until dropping three shots in two holes for a 66.
The morning fog off coastal waters could not have been better for Gay.
"I was super tired," he said.
The McGladrey Classic is the third event in Gay's most unusual itinerary — four PGA Tour events in four weeks in four countries. He started two weeks ago at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia, and then flew eight hours to Shanghai for the HSBC Champions. He would not have played this week except that it's only about three hours from his home in Orlando, Fla., and he loves the Seaside course. And then he'll finish out the fall portion of the PGA Tour schedule next week in Mexico.
Scott Piercy and Boo Weekley also were in China last week, and each opened with a 67.
No one was as thrilled with the start as Baird, who is returning from surgery on both shoulders. Baird last played a PGA Tour event in 2012 when he started feeling pain in his left shoulder, and then his right shoulder. He tried a cortisone shot and rehab before he realized surgery would be required. He had the operations only a month apart, and then tried to return too soon by playing Web.com Tour events.
Finally, he's healthy enough to swing a club and even lift his shoulders over his head. He would like to think he's strong enough to lift a trophy over his head, though it's something Baird has never experienced. This is 365th start on the PGA Tour, and he still hasn't won.
It bothers him, though not as much as people might think.
"I'd probably rather be the guy that's won the most money and not won than the guy who has won the least amount and won once," Baird said. "When you hear that catch-phrase, that does drive you a little nuts that we're only out here playing for trophies. I kind of cringe at that because that's not true. Otherwise, we'd just be donating our money to charity and living in huts. So it's not entirely true."
One aspect about that is true — Baird needs money to keep his full PGA Tour card. He is on a major medical exemption, meaning he needs $463,399 to reach a level that would allow him to keep his card the rest of the season.
Webb Simpson, who won in Las Vegas last month for his first win this year, was at 65 along with Kevin Kisner, Kevin Chappell and Seung-yul Noh.
Gay finished the HSBC Champions in time to get to the airport for a 6 p.m. flight home — nearly 14 hours to Chicago, two more hours to Orlando, a short layover in between. He tried to relax Monday, but he has been getting up in the middle of the morning and figures he's a few days away from recovering from his jet lag.
There was nothing wrong with his game that a few long putts couldn't fix.
Gay usually has his caddie read the putts, but after he missed an 8-footer on the first hole, his caddie left that part up to him. Gay didn't use him the rest of the way, and he was helped by rolling in three putts from the 30-foot range.
"I wasn't feeling very good at all this morning," Gay said. "I've struggled the last few days sleeping and been really tried. But a nice day. Solid. Hit the ball nice, made a couple of long putts. Just a good day."
McNeill had a few fleeting thoughts of a 59 when he made his fifth straight birdie to get to 6-under with eight holes remaining. He missed an 8-foot birdie at No. 2, and when faced with a tough par-saving putt, he realized he should worry more about his next shot than his odds of breaking 60. He had to return this morning with 49 other players to finish off the round.