Chilly, windy – and worst of all, wet – weather swept in late Tuesday night and persisted through the early hours of Wednesday morning. It was a lucky stroke for the tournament that the worst of it was over by the time the first pro-am groups were teeing off, and everyone kept umbrellas and rain gear handy as scattered showers trailing behind the front kept the field on their toes. Far from being over as the sun rose on Thursday, the storm pulled a secondary front through the area, and the first day of professional play was a game of hide-and-seek with the rain as a series of squalls swept down from the north, punctuated by periods of sunshine and intense blue skies. As darkness fell on the first day of the tournament, however, the sky was clear, and hopes were high for smooth sailing for the remainder of the event.
Weather-savvy folks will tell you that a clear night after a day of rain is a good formula for fog. Sure enough, Friday morning in the Santa Clara Valley dawned under clear skies – from about 1,000 feet above sea level and up. Down at ground level, in the valley and up to a little above the 320- to 420-foot elevation where the CordeValle resort lies, the combination of damp ground, damp air and a clear night sky had resulted in a heavy ground-level fog that hugged the ground like a blanket, reducing visibility to a chip shot.
The crowd around the 10th tee, where Tiger was scheduled to tee off at 7:40 am, grew restive as the sky grew lighter but the fog showed no signs of lifting. A couple of the course marshals who were working the 10th tee performed a little tag-team stand-up comedy, keeping the crowd amused as successive delays were announced – 15 minutes, 20 minutes, another hour, etc. Figures could be seen in the distance, spectators lining the fairway all the way to the green, but they disappeared and reappeared as the mist swirled, thinned and thickened. At around 9:00 a.m. the view from the 10th tee was clear all the way down to the green, but the mist persisted behind, up by the 1st and 2nd tees – play was still delayed. Finally, at 9:40 a.m., the first groups were announced and play began.
From that point on, the tournament was blessed with beautiful weather – blue skies, light breezes, and abundant sunshine. Tournament volunteers were handing out sample-sized tubes of sunblock and lip balm. A few puffy, picture-perfect white clouds appeared in the sky as the day progressed, but they sailed around the course, skirting the hillsides which rise above the fairways as if they didn’t dare violate the airspace directly above the tournament.
The weather for the remainder of the weekend was picture-perfect. After extended days Friday and Saturday, both a result of the fog-delayed start of Friday play, Sunday’s round also came close to being affected by the length of the day, but for a different reason – the round was extended due to a dramatic playoff between two potential first-time winners that came within a hair of carrying the final day’s play over to Monday.
When play concluded Saturday evening, Florida native Briny Baird was in an unfamiliar position – alone at the top of the leaderboard after 54 holes. Baird is what veteran sportswriter Dan Jenkins calls a “lurker” – a player who has ridden the PGA Tour gravy train for some years, making cuts, finishing in the money (“swooping some clip”), but never ringing the bell and posting a “W”.
Baird, son of 3-time PGA Tour winner Butch Baird, is a 39-year old journeyman who turned pro in 1998. He has four 2nd-place finishes to his credit in 13 seasons on the Tour, along with thirty top 10s, and has collected just shy of $12M in on-course earnings in that time, making him the highest-earning player on the Tour without a win.
Despite his past monetary success, Baird was coming into the 2011 Frys.com Open at a low point in his career. He had come to the end of the 2010 season sitting at 127th on the money list, losing his fully-exempt status on the Tour, and had played seventeen tournaments in 2011 with a partial exemption. Slipping further down the standings over the course of the season, Baird came into the 2011 Frys.com Open 148th on the money list, on the real bubble. Finish below 150 and you do not have even partially-exempt status – number 151 and below are faced with a year of sponsor’s exemptions (basically writing letters to tournament chairman begging for one of the discretionary spots they save for local amateurs, fallen champions, etc.), or a return trip to Q School. Baird had a lot riding on a good finish at Frys.