Birdie away from big win

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:29 AM ET

The difference between Chris Baryla winning his first pro golf tournament and losing in a playoff wasn't even the width of a ball.

It was the distance that makes a chip lip out instead of sinking to the bottom of the cup.

Baryla watched just that scenario take place on the 72nd hole.

So instead of carding a birdie that would have won him a Nationwide Tour event last weekend, he went to a four-man playoff, eventually won by Nick Flanagan.

Vancouver's Bryn Parry and Roland Thatcher also advanced to the playoff.

Parry was eliminated on the first extra hole and Thatcher dropped out in the second.

"It seems when you win, you chip in for birdie down the stretch or you make a 30-foot putt that pushes you over the edge," Baryla said yesterday.

"That didn't happen for me.

"I made the birdies I had to make but never made that one shot that put me over the edge.

"In a way, I stll felt lucky to get into the playoff because Roland had a birdie putt on the 18th hole."

Still, the Calgary-born pro who grew up in Vernon, B.C., had plenty of reason to celebrate after the Henrico County Open at the Dominion Club in Richmond, Va.

Despite finally bowing out in the third playoff hole, Baryla pocketed his biggest pro paycheque, $33,600 for finishing in a three-way tie for second spot with his 13-under-par 275.

It's a heady accomplishment for the 24-year-old who graduated from the University of Texas-El Paso, ramping up a season that started slowly, admittedly because he didn't practice away his whole off season.

"It's starting to get better. I took quite a bit of time off in the summer, just because of a bit of burn out," he said.

"But it's coming around."

Last year, he played in 18 Nationwide events, making the cut in 12, and finished as high as fourth a couple of times.

Baryla finished with $120,229 in 2006 earnings, enough to ensure his Nationwide card but paid a heavy price for it, often making the events during Monday qualifiers.

Now with $50,260 in earnings this season heading into this weekend's Fort Smith Classic in Arkansas, Baryla moved up to 25th on the Nationwide Tour's money list, a huge mental hurdle.

The top 25 at the end of the season will earn 2008 PGA Tour cards, meaning Baryla has a legitimate shot of moving up to the next level in the golfing world.

"It's definitely a step in the right direction and that feels good," said Baryla, who's finished in the money in six of eight events this season.

"Nothing really matters until the end of the year and there's a huge difference between 25th and top one, two or three.

"All the cards aren't equal, it's much better if you get a top-five card.

"But it's a good feeling to get in there and now I'm going to try to get in the top five."

Baryla has worked his way through the Canadian Tour after finishing at UTEP with a management degree.

After his junior year, he qualified for the 2003 U.S. Open as an amateur.

That year, he also became the first amateur in 20 years to make the cut at the Bell Canadian Open.


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