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Jay Don Blake scrambles toward contention and exemption at Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am

Jay Don Blake, scanning the 18th green, birdied three of the first five holes Saturday and shot par after that to finish with 3-under 68.

BRYAN THOMAS | Times

Jay Don Blake, scanning the 18th green, birdied three of the first five holes Saturday and shot par after that to finish with 3-under 68.

LUTZ — Jay Don Blake is one of those names only true golf fans recognize. A career grinder on the PGA Tour, Blake won once in his professional career, the 1991 Shearson Lehman Brothers Open at Torrey Pines outside San Diego.

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When he turned 50 two years ago and became eligible for the Champions Tour, he had no status. Blake had to go through qualifying school, where he finished eighth and became conditionally exempt for select tournaments. He played 12 events in 2009, and three of those were through Monday qualifying.

Last year was a little better. He played 15 events and finished 34th on the money list ($536,789). The top 30 on the money list are fully exempt, and Blake was close enough to get into most tournaments this year.

This is his first time at the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am, and he found himself three shots back with 18 holes to play.

"It helps with the confidence knowing you can compete and get into contention and see your name up on the leader­board," said Blake, who was at 8-under 134. "And you know it should be there. I'll just keep plugging along and see if I can keep it going."

Last year, Blake had a share of the lead at the Senior Open Championship but tied for third. A win would give him a full exemption for 2012, but he's trying to put that out of his mind.

"You're always thinking about it, but you try not to," Blake said. "I can't dwell on my position. I've just got to do the best I can and make some good progress throughout the year."

COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER: Tom Pernice shot his second straight 3-under 68 and sat five shots back, tied for fourth with Joey Sindelar. Pernice made up most of his ground on the back nine the first two days. He was 8 under on the back but had three bogeys and only one birdie on the front.

Pernice, 51, has been around long enough to know golfers can't worry about what-ifs.

"I played just as good on the front, but I lipped out about seven or eight birdie putts," Pernice said. "The ball-striking has been good, but the putts didn't go in. I hit a lot of fairways and had a lot of chances but just didn't make the putts. Every guy out here can say that, though."

Pernice was only four shots off the lead in last year's tournament until the final round was rained out.

"Nothing I could do about that," Pernice said. "Just got to see what happens (today)."

PRO-AM: John Cook and amateur partner Todd Wagner led at 21 under. Russ Cochran and former Bucs LB Derrick Brooks were second at 20 under. The other celebrities still in the tournament: former major-leaguer Fred McGriff, Rascal Flatts lead guitarist Joe Don Rooney, actor John O'Hurley and actor Craig T. Nelson.

ODDS AND ENDS: Mike McCullough withdrew after 17 holes with an illness. He opened with 76. … Kenny Perry birdied five of the first six holes on the front nine Friday. On Saturday, he bogeyed three of the first four. Perry never recovered and shot 2-over 73. … With his 68 on Saturday, Hale Irwin has had 28 subpar rounds at the tournament. … Leaders tee off at 9:35 a.m. and should finish before 3 p.m. to accommodate television.

Jay Don Blake scrambles toward contention and exemption at Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am 04/16/11 [Last modified: Saturday, April 16, 2011 9:52pm]
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