San Martin, Calif. — Briny Baird picked out his line and pulled off the shot, a driver that settled 15 feet from the cup and led to eagle on the 17th hole Saturday that staked him to a two-shot lead in the Frys.com Open.
Despite a bogey from the hazard on the final hole at CordeValle, Baird had a 7-under 64 to give himself a small cushion over Ernie Els and Paul Casey, two players who have a bit more experience winning.
That’s not saying much — Baird has never won at all.
He has gone 347 tournaments over 12 years without hoisting a trophy on the PGA Tour. This is only the third time he has been atop the leaderboard going into the final round, the last occasion at Disney seven years ago.
Even as Els settled into disappointing pars on the easier holes down the stretch, and Casey kept in the hunt throughout most of the sunny day along the vineyards at CordeValle, there were plenty of other players lining up behind them.
Tiger Woods wasn’t among them.
Woods played steadily again for a 3-under 68, although that wasn’t enough on this day. It was the first time since his season-opening start at Torrey Pines that Woods posted consecutive rounds under 70. Even so, he was nine shots behind in a tie for 38th.
“It’s getting better,” said Woods, playing for the first time in seven weeks. “I’m improving day by day, which is good. Obviously, tomorrow I need to improve a lot and make putts and post a really low one.”
Baird was at 13-under 200, making him the outright 54-hole leader for the first time in his career.
The Frys.com Open concludes today at CordeValle.
Phils’ Howard tore Achilles
Philadelphia — The Philadelphia Phillies say first baseman Ryan Howard has a torn Achilles tendon and it’s uncertain if he will be ready for spring training next year.
The power-hitting first baseman was injured on the final play of Philadelphia’s season-ending loss to St. Louis in Game 5 of the NL division series Friday night, falling as he ran out of the batter’s box on his grounder.
The team said Saturday an MRI revealed a rupture of the left Achilles tendon and he will need surgery once the swelling goes down. Injuries of that type usually require at least six months of recuperation.
Liukin may be back for 2012
Tokyo — Olympic champion Nastia Liukin is done being a spectator.
The gold medalist told the Associated Press on Saturday that she has resumed training in hopes of making the U.S. team for next summer’s London Olympics. She plans to focus on uneven bars and balance beam, her best events, and isn’t ruling out floor exercise.
Liukin has taken most of the last three years off since the Beijing Olympics.
Keselowski wins at Kansas
Kansas City, Kan. — Brad Keselowski dominated the Nationwide Series race Saturday at Kansas Speedway, leading 173 of 200 laps on the 1.5-mile tri-oval.
Keselowski, the Sprint Cup winner at the track in June, fell behind Carl Edwards after a late caution, but pulled ahead with 11 laps to go and beat Edwards by 2.795 seconds.
Elliott Sadler was third, followed by Paul Menard, points leader Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Bryan Vickers, Trevor Bayne and Ryan Truex.
Busch aims for Chase leaders
Kansas City, Kan. — Kyle Busch hopes to make some positive memories at Kansas.
Busch comes into this weekend eighth in the tightly bunched Chase standings, just 15 points behind co-leaders Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards. But his title hopes have fizzled at Kansas Speedway before.
In 2007, Busch was 10 points out of the Chase lead when he got tangled with Dale Earnhardt Jr., and last year he was third in the standings when David Reutimann put him in the wall.
Busch will start alongside Chase rival Matt Kenseth in the second row Sunday. Greg Biffle will be on the pole with Edwards alongside him.
Team cheers its elimination
Nelspruit, South Africa — South Africa’s soccer team did a lap around the stadium and danced in front of cheering fans to celebrate making the African Cup of Nations.
Small problem: South Africa didn’t qualify.
Its 0-0 draw with Sierra Leone left South Africa tied with Niger and Sierra Leone, and ahead on goal differential, but the tiebreaker was head-to-head results among the three teams. That sent Niger to the tournament and left South Africa out.