By DAVID MCCOLLUM
LOG CABIN STAFF WRITER
AMEMPHIS -- Brian Gay followed a storm front with a torrent of his own Sunday afternoon while Conway's Bryce Molder found himself mired for the first time in four rounds at the St. Jude Classic.
Gay posted such a commanding wire-to-wire victory that by the 14th hole television coverage was switching to "Swing Action" shot of squirrels running up a tree in slow motion and fathers carrying drooling babies. He won by five strokes at 18-under.
His tie for second with David Toms at 13-under was still Molder's best finish as a pro. He tied for third in the Reno-Tahoe Open in his first event in 2001. Sunday's finish earned him $492,800, more than double what he earned at Reno.
"You do that (finish third in the first pro event) and you think, 'this game is not too hard,' then eight years later I finally better that," Molder said. "It's been a long journey. There have been some ugly days, and there still will be ugly days. But I feel like there's a lot more good days ahead."
The former Conway High golfer, when he eagled No. 16 for his only red-figure number, reflected the afternoon when he raised his putter and did a "finally, finally" shrug.
"I feel I hit better putts than that and that one goes in," he said.
Molder, who started the day in second place one stroke behind Gay, held that position until the 14th hole but never could get anything to work on his round. He fell back in the pack and left the door wide open for Gay when he three-putted from 21 feet for bogey on the par-3 hole.
He then finished eagle and two strong pars.
"I've been playing well the last few weeks and the few tournaments I've played this year I've had some decent finishes, then I finished very poorly," Molder said. "It kind of looked like it was going in that direction today. I just tried to stay in my shots. I 3-putted on 14, which I hit a really good 6-iron and a good putt that went by the whole then a bad putt and all of a sudden, now it feels like 'here we go again.'
"I said a lot of little prayers the last four, five holes just to kind of stay with it and let go and play. Then, what do you know, a putt falls in for eagle and then to good pars to finsh."
Molder couldn't produce near enough octane to chase down Gay, who was steady and had a counter-punch when needed all day. The former four-time first-team All-American couldn't ignite his round until he rolled in a 15-footer from the fringe for eagle on the 16th hole.
Things were one-step forward, one step backward most of the day. No one beyond Molder mounted a serious challenge, either.
Molder's drive found a trap at the par-3 fourth. Gay rolled in a 20-footer for birdie.
Molder's 31-foot birdie attempt slid just to the left of the hole on No. 9. Gay rolled it in nicely from 17 feet from abou the same line.
Gay's drive hit deep rough on No. 10 that led to bogey. He then almost holed his drive on the par-3 No. 11 leading to a tap-in birdie that regained his five-stroke lead.
"If I would have played well, at least I put a little bit of heat on him, then who knows?" Molder said. "I know I had a 63 and a 65 this week, so I could have caught him. But it would have take a very good round to beat him. I also think, too, if he would have been pressed, I think he would have been tough to catch.
"He bogeys 10 and he mishit on 11. He'll tell you. It's not mishit in a bad way. He aimed probably 6, 7 yards left of the hole, knowing that if he pushes it a bit, he's still OK. So, he hits it over there and it's a foot from the hole. Then it was kind of like, 'all right, it is probably his tournament.'"
The final round was delayed four hours because of a heavy thunderstorm that passed through Memphis in early morning. Tournament officials, in anticipation of bad weather, moved Molder's tee time to 9 a.m.
"The best part of our tee time was that it was 9 o'clock, and I could just wake up and go play," he said. "So I woke up at 6:45 or 7 and then I waited around to tee off at 1. That's a long time to sit around and think about things that could go wrong. Unfortunately, that's the first thing that comes to mind when you haven't been in that position in a long time ... And then it was just a slow day for me all day. I felt like I hit a lot of pretty good shots. It wasn't as crisp as yesterday or as crisp as the day before. I'd say 95 percent of that I'll put on the fact that I was uncomfortable and I'm not embarrassed about the fact I was uncomfortable. There's a lot at stake, but that's the fun part."