Miami Sports Day

GOLF: Byrd Takes the 54-hole Lead at the Tour Championship

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Jonathan Byrd tied the round of the day with a 7-under 64 to overtake Sam Saunders for the 54-hole lead at the Tour Championship. Saunders, who opened with a 12-under 59, entered the day with a two-shot lead, but Byrd, a five-time PGA TOUR winner, poured in eight birdies on the day to grab a two-shot lead at 20-under 193.

“I was telling myself I’m a clutch putter and I’ve made a lot of clutch putts over the year and I just felt good out there,” Byrd said. “I felt at ease. When you feel that way, you’re kind of letting it come to you, you’re not working hard to make putts. You’re just kind of letting it happen and that’s kind of the way I felt.”

Byrd, who has played the Tour each of the two seasons, is in search of a return to the PGA TOUR Sunday and could lock up his TOUR card with a top-six finish or better. The 41-year-old, though, is more focused on securing a victory, which would be his first on the Tour since the 2001 BMW Charity Pro-Am.

“I told myself at the beginning of the week I had to get to 20-under to do what I need to do this week for next year, which is probably the top five or six, and I’m already at that point so I’ve got to kind of reevaluate,” Byrd said. “We’re probably going to have tough conditions tomorrow, it’s going to be a little more windy. But I like this golf course, and I think I can kind of work myself around it. I don’t know what it’s going to take tomorrow, but I’m going to shoot the best score I can and see what happens.”

For a period earlier this week, the Sea Island, Georgia resident considered not even coming even though the season finale was just an hour and half down the road from his home. His game was in a funk following consecutive missed cuts, but his wife had a talk with him and he headed to south to Atlantic Beach, Florida for this week’s season finale. Needless to say he’s glad he did even if he didn’t expect this type of week.

“I’ve been in the mix a couple times this year, but I haven’t had any leads or anything like that. I was telling Phil Blackmar that actually on Monday or Sunday I was debating on whether to even come down here because I just was in a funk. Missed the last two cuts and played pretty horrible.”

Turns out the pep talk and Bermuda greens was all the recipe he needed for a turnaround. His fellow playing partner, Keith Mitchell, who also lives in Sea Island and plays with Byrd frequently in the offseason, joked that Byrd was even walking them in from 30 feet on Saturday.

“Coming into this week, I really like this golf course. It gives you a little extra room off the tee. I love the Bermuda greens, I love the fact that there’s no rough,” Byrd said. “I think being a southern boy, you like Bermuda anytime you can get it. I’ve putted good all week, and I kind of had a nice attitude adjustment on Monday and just came down here trying to play like I’ve got nothing to lose and I’ve done a good job of that this week. But you’ve still got to make the putts, still got to be committed out there and it’s been a little bit of a battle but I’ve stayed focused.”

Saunders, who is a member at Atlantic Beach Country Club, opened the day with a bogey at the first but appeared to right the ship with birdies at Nos. 3, 4 and 6. However, the 30-year-old, who is in search of his first career Tour victory, made bogeys at the par-5 seventh and another at the par-4 11th to fall out of the lead. Saunders entered the par-5 18th with a chance to tie the lead but made a closing three-putt bogey for a 1-under 70.

“Honestly, it’s 18 more holes of golf,” Saunders said. “That putt right there, it’s a bummer but in the scheme of 18 holes it’s irrelevant. There’s a lot of golf left and I played solid today. I missed a lot of really short putts, which is weird. I’ve been putting solid all week. I’ve just got to work that out and tomorrow not do it and I’ll be fine.”

Cameron Tringale sits in solo third at 17-under 196 and is three shots back of Byrd. The former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket is looking to return to the PGA TOUR, where he’s played full-time the last eight seasons.

“Saturday was a good day,” Tringale said. “I got off to a nice start, I birdied the first three and then the fifth hole, and didn’t get the par-5s but just played steadily to finish that nine. And then birdied 10 and just got a lot of looks.”

With one round remaining before 25 PGA TOUR cards are distributed, five players – Byrd, Matt Harmon, Roberto Castro, Cameron Tringale, and Shawn Stefani – are projected to jump into the top 25 on the Finals money list (excluding the 25) to secure their TOUR card.

Adam Svensson, who missed the cut, is currently projected in the 25th spot with $37,937 in earnings. Chad Collins, who enters the final round in T48, is currently projected in the 26th spot. Ben Crane, who did not play this week, is currently projected in 27th.

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