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Baird shooting for first top 30

Briny Baird is trying not to think about it, and so far that philosophy is working.

Hoping to play his way into the Tour Championship for the first time, Baird has given himself an excellent chance through two rounds of the Chrysler Championship, shooting 4-under-par 67 Friday on the Copperhead course at the Westin Innisbrook Resort. He is tied for seventh, three shots behind leader Retief Goosen.

"I've never finished top 30 (on the money list), and the naive factor might come into play," said Baird, 31, of Jupiter, who is in his fourth year on the PGA Tour. "I've said that the easiest time you're ever going to have getting through tour school is the first time through. I think this might be the same way. I asked somebody what's so big about the top 30 and he said it's a big-time measuring stick. Obviously I'm playing this week with the intention to finish in the top 30."

Coming into the week, Baird was 35th on the money list, some $88,000 behind No. 30 Rocco Mediate. He needs no worse than a top-14 finish to pass Mediate, who missed the cut.

PGA champion Shaun Micheel won't be going to Houston next week. At No. 31 on the money list, Micheel missed the cut. But Bob Estes (33) made it at 141, as did Stewart Cink (34). Over the next two days, they will fight to earn enough to pass Mediate on the money list.

Not only does finishing among the top 30 get those players into the Tour Championship, but it also would make them exempt for next year's U.S. Open.

Then they can focus on the top 20, which means a British Open invite.

"It never ends," Baird said. "There's always a bar. It can drive you insane."

TOP 125 CHASE: For those trying to keep their tour cards by remaining among the top 125 on the money list, it wasn't a good day. No. 125 Per-Ulrik Johansson shot 73 to miss the cut, and No. 126 Dicky Pride, a sponsor exemption, missed, too. No. 128 Chris Smith withdrew.

That means Homossasa's Glen Hnatiuk could be the beneficiary, if he takes advantage this weekend. Hnatiuk's 68 put him in a tie for 24th. He is more than $8,000 out of the 125th spot and could pass Johansson by simply finishing, depending on what happens behind him.

END OF AN ERA: Dating to his first full year on the tour in 1981, Mark O'Meara never has failed to finish among the top 125 money winners _ until now. O'Meara followed his first-round 80 with 76 and missed the cut. He entered the week 142nd on the money list.

"I'm certainly disappointed in the way I played this year," said O'Meara, 46. "It's been a battle out there. But I still want to compete, still want to play. To finish outside of the top 125 is disappointing because I've never done that in my career. I've played 22 years pretty consistently, and this year has just been a battle."

O'Meara, however, has options. The winner of 16 tour titles, including the 1998 Masters and British Open, he has earned more than $13-million in his career and will remain among the tour's all-time top 25. That is good for a one-year exemption, which he plans to use next year.

SOMETHING TO PROVE: Jerry Kelly is 22nd on the money list, which means his position in next week's Tour Championship is secure. But Kelly, who won twice on the tour last year, thinks there is plenty to play for this week.

"The one thing I would like to do is be in the top 10 again this year (on the money list)," Kelly said. "I got up to No. 6 last year. I still think about the beginning of the year, the Sports Illustrated article where I was overrated. If I get top 10 two years in a row, I don't know who is going to be calling me overrated."

Kelly, who is tied for fourth, two shots back of Goosen, was referring to an anonymous poll of players that appeared this spring. "I don't know who said it, I don't know who voted," Kelly said. "I just need to go out there and prove myself."

AROUND INNISBROOK: Don't be fooled by today's television times. The tournament will be tape delayed on USA Network from 3 to 6 p.m. But play likely will conclude by 4:30. Players will tee off from the first and 10th tees. Tournament officials are pleading with spectators to leave their cell phones at home. There were several incidents where cell phones rang and disrupted play Thursday and blatant examples of fans talking on them Friday. Those who have cell phones will be asked to return them to their cars or will have them checked to pick up at the end of the day.

_ BOB HARIG

Up next:Paul Azinger

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