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Baird makes his case to be next first-time champ

Could Briny Baird become this year's Shaun Micheel? Baird, who has yet to win on the PGA Tour, is just one shot off the lead halfway through the PGA Championship and poised for a big breakthrough.

HAVEN, Wis. (AP) -- Briny Baird looks at the big names on the leaderboard and wonders whether he has a chance to claim his first PGA Tour victory.

Maybe he should look more closely at the history of the PGA Championship.

Three times in the past 16 years, the PGA champion has been a first-time winner on the tour. Baird, who was tied for third at 8-under after two rounds at Whistling Straits, could be the fourth if he can pass Vijay Singh and Justin Leonard over the weekend.

Ernie Els and Darren Clarke are tied with Baird, one stroke off the lead.

"I can't come in thinking I've got a great shot at winning," Baird insisted. "Because the fact of the matter is, Ernie has a better chance of winning this golf tournament than I do, or Tiger (Woods) or Vijay -- those guys, just because they have done it, and I'm still sitting here hoping to talk to you guys on Sunday. Until I do it, it's hard for me to say that."

But golfers have broken through at the PGA Championship before. Jeff Sluman (1988), John Daly ('91) and defending champion Shaun Micheel all earned their first victories at the final major; it's only happened once in the other three majors combined over that span, when Ben Curtis won The Open Championship last year.

Baird has played in 148 PGA Tour events and finished in the top 10 13 times -- most recently when he opened the year with a 10th-place finish at the Nissan Open. He was in fifth place after three rounds at the PGA Championship in Oak Hill last year before shooting an 81 in the final round.

"Yeah, 81 (stinks) on Sunday," he said. "I don't think I really learned much last year. I knew that if you get flustered and you don't stay focused, I knew that before I shot 81 that you can't just start hitting shots for the sake of hitting shots. I know better than that.

"Sometimes it just happens. Sometimes it's easy. I'm not saying you throw in the towel, but sometimes it's just really, really hard to concentrate when things are not going your way."

Things were going Baird's way on Friday -- at least until he got to the interview room and lost track of how many holes he bogeyed and needed a moment to remember which holes he birdied.

"I'm tired, so bear with me," he said.

Baird shot 67 in the opening round and on Friday made a 30-foot putt on the second hole, a par 5, to improve to 6-under. He put an 8 iron within 15 feet on the fourth hole to improve to 8-under.

"Another par 5, I don't know what hole that is, made birdie," he said to the laughing media. "No. 7 -- all of these holes look the same, you see high grass, and you're just like, 'Oh, God."'

Then he just gave up.

"Do you guys have any questions?" he pleaded. "It's hard for me to go back and remember all of these holes because I'm done with the round and I'm tired."

Copyright (c)2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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