Jonathan Byrd wins PGA Tour opener
Jonathan Byrd won another playoff in fading sunlight, minus the heroics.
Byrd opened the PGA Tour season Sunday by closing with a 6-under 67 and winning a sudden-death playoff in the Tournament of Champions when Robert Garrigus missed a 3-foot par putt on the second extra hole.
Byrd qualified for Kapalua by making a hole-in-one in near darkness to win a three-man playoff in Las Vegas, as dramatic a finish as there was on tour last year. He won this playoff under far more different circumstances.
He nearly holed a 50-foot birdie putt on the opening hole on the Plantation Course, leaving him a tap-in par. Byrd stood off to the side of the green, waiting to go to the next hole, when Garrigus three-putted by missing a 3-foot par putt.
It gave Byrd his fifth career victory, and this came with a few perks. Byrd earned an automatic invitation to the Masters, and with his second win in the last two months, 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.
Byrd and Garrigus, who missed a 12-foot eagle putt on the 18th in regulation, finished at 24-under 268.
Both had their chances.
Garrigus was always behind after a bogey on the opening hole, was never out of the hunt. He always had the 688-yard, downhill 18th waiting for him, and he again took advantage. Garrigus ripped a 5-wood that caught the grain and the slope perfectly, some 12 feet short of the hole. His eagle putt didn't have enough speed, however, and caught the lower side of the cup.
Byrd, playing in the final group, couldn't reach the green because of the Kona wind into his face. His wedge came up well short, and his 18-foot birdie putt for the win didn't have a chance.
Despite the length advantage for Garrigus, Byrd had the best chance to win the first playoff hole on the 18th. His pitch stopped 10 feet short of the hole, but his second chance at birdie for the win slid by the cup.
Garrigus had a 73-yard advantage off the tee on the second extra hole, but his approach was 40 feet short, and his birdie putt to win was hit too hard, leaving him a nervy 3-footer that he missed.
''That putt was a microcosm of how I feel right now. This hole kind of got me this week,'' said Garrigus, who bogeyed No. 1 in regulation and was 4-over the five times he played it. ''Hopefully, I might it back here next year.''
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.
''I just played solid all day,'' Byrd said. ''I was a little anxious, a little nervous. I didn't play the last two holes as well as I wanted.''
Thanks to Garrigus, it didn't matter.
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 past five tournaments. He was joined by Matt Kuchar, who shot a 69.