Jonathan Byrd wins PGA Tour opener
KAPALUA, Hawaii – Jonathan Byrd had a silver trophy at his side and a lei draped around his neck, a winner Sunday in the Tournament of Champions, even if the playoff didn’t end the way anyone imagined.
“Pretty overwhelmed,” he said.
The emotions went beyond his victory in the PGA Tour’s season opener when Robert Garrigus, the biggest hitter on tour, missed a 3-foot par putt on the second extra hole at Kapalua.
Just over three months ago, Byrd thought he might lose his card for the first time in his career. He was outside the top 125 on the money list, and not much was going his way.
Then came a hole-in-one in near darkness to win Las Vegas in a playoff, getting him to Maui for the Tournament of Champions. He made it two straight wins by closing with a 6-under 67, and winning despite the length advantage for Garrigus in the playoff.
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“I can’t sit here and not think about where I was toward the end of the season last year, fighting for my card,” he said. “I’m just thankful, I’m overwhelmed, I’m grateful, all of the above.”
Garrigus – his name might as well be “gregarious” – was thankful, too, despite a tough way to lose. He had a 12-foot eagle putt on the last hole in regulation that would have been enough to win. He failed to take advantage of his length on the par-5 18th in the playoff, hitting a poor chip that fooled him. And with a 9-iron to the green on No. 1 in the playoff – Byrd his 3-iron – he couldn’t get it closer than 40 feet.
Garrigus ran it 3 feet by the hole, and tried to jam it in from there and caught the right lip.
“If you had told me this – I’d have been in a playoff with one of the best players in the world – I’d have said, ‘Hey, bring it on and we’ll get ’em next week,” said Garrigus, who also shot 67. “It was a great week. I’ve lost about 133 golf tournaments, and it’s not that big a deal. I get a nice check, and I get to go next week and relax and have fun.”
They finished at 24-under 268.
Byrd had an 18-foot birdie putt in regulation to win. He had a 10-foot birdie on the 18th in the playoff to win. No putt came closer than his 50-foot effort on No. 1 in the playoff, the ball just touching the high side of the hole. He tapped in for par, and standing to the side of the green, began planning his next shot in the playoff at the par-3 second.
Garrigus put a sad end to it all.
“He just gave it a little too much gas, and missed the next putt coming back,” Byrd said.
Byrd won for the fifth time in his career, and this was the biggest. He had never won on tour earlier than July. He had never beaten a field this strong, with only PGA Tour winners from last year. And this one came with some perks. Byrd earned an automatic invitation to the Masters, and with his second win in the last two months, he is exempt for the U.S. Open.
Graeme McDowell nearly joined them in the playoff. The U.S. Open champion, coming off a dream season, matched the Plantation Course record with an 11-under 62 and finished one shot behind. McDowell had a 10-foot birdie putt on the last hole that just missed.
Steve Stricker, tied with Byrd and Garrigus going into the final round, shot 71 and tied for fourth with Carl Pettersson (68).
McDowell started the final round six shots out of the lead, and he told one of the locker room attendants that he probably would need a 59 to have any kind of chance.
He gave it quite a ride. He ran off four straight birdies early in the round to make the turn in 30 and get within range. After scolding himself for missing an 8-foot birdie try on the 12th, McDowell responded with four straight birdies, including a 20-footer down the slope on the 15th after playing a safe pitch.
“I never looked at the leaderboard,” McDowell said. “I knew the guys were going to go low. I just kept my head down. When I birdied, 14, 14, 15, 16 … I said, ‘Hold on.'”
But with another dose of Kona wind – that’s when Kapalua is at its longest – the 17th and 18th are not easy. McDowell can’t reach the par-5 18th in two, but hit a risky pitch that flew toward the pin and checked up 8 feet short. His firm putt didn’t catch all the break, and he had to settle for par for the fourth straight round.
“It was just a fun day out there,” McDowell said. “This golf course is just ‘green light’ all day. You can see from the scoring, there’s a lot of birdies, and it’s a lot of fun.”
It wasn’t much fun for Stricker, who didn’t stay in the lead very long.
Stricker chipped poorly on the first hole and made bogey, three-putted for par on the fifth, then hit two very tentative putts on the seventh hole for another three-putt bogey that left him four shots behind.
Ian Poulter closed with a 66 to tie for sixth – he hasn’t finished worse than that in his last five tournaments. He was joined by Matt Kuchar, who shot a 69.
The tournament ended with a bizarre twist, much like the rest of the week went.
It started with two-time defending champion Geoff Ogilvy having to pull out with 12 stitches in his finger from a freak injury in the ocean. The next day, Camilo Villegas was disqualified because of a rules violation that was reported through Twitter.
It ended with the first American winner at Kapalua in 10 years, something Byrd was made aware of earlier in the week.
“I said it was about time for an American to win,” Byrd said. “I just didn’t know it would be me.”
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