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Byrd Soars in Sudden Death
Jonathan Byrd is what golf scribes call a flatliner. Nothing gets this guy ruffled, least of all a playoff to win the first event of the 2011 PGA Tour season.
Byrd won for the fifth time in an underrated career, beating an elite field of winners in capturing the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions on the strength of a final-round 67. He had won the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospital for Children Open in October, also in a sudden-death playoff, merely to gain entry into the Hyundai.
Of course, Byrd got an assist from his playoff competitor, the much more combustible Robert Garrigus, who gagged a three-footer on the second playoff hole to give Byrd the win.
Byrd, the first American to win this event in a decade, now sees his schedule open up with trips to Augusta and the U.S. Open on his docket. And he plans to have fun in the process.
“The best thing I’m doing in my game right now is simplifying things,” he said. “I complicate things way too much, trying to be perfect, and that’s been my biggest barrier over my career. And I finally got to the point, I don’t know what it is, maybe the other way just hasn’t worked and now I’m just kind of simplifying things and just really enjoying playing. I’m having more fun.”
Garrigus has a heartwarming story of his own; he’s overcome addiction to forge a competitive career on the PGA Tour, and he’s also overcome the shame of a sweat-soaked butt in Memphis last year that earned him a nickname I can’t repeat on a family website. He’s also a guy who’s easy to root for, a gregarious bomber who won’t let the day’s disappointment get him down. “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. “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.”
G-Mac Goes Low
Reigning U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell seems intent on proving that his 2010 breakthrough is just the beginning. McDowell fired the round of the (very, very) young season, shooting a final-round 11-under 62 at a Kapalua course that he’d never navigated before this weekend and narrowly missing the playoff.
“Sunday of the U.S. Open was pretty fun last year,” said McDowell when asked if he’d ever had a better day. “(But) 11-under par ties my lowest-ever round as a professional golfer; so from that point of view, from a purity-scoring point of view, no, I’ve never had a better day than that.
“I’ve really enjoyed this week. It’s a week you want to be at, and it’s a week obviously you want to be here every year because it means you’ve won a golf tournament and that normally signifies a pretty good year.”
Pretty good, indeed. It’s time for McDowell to join Lee Westwood, Tiger Woods, Martin Kaymer and Phil Mickelson in the discussion for best player in the world right now. If he’s not there already.
Feeling good, Louis
Of the five players who qualified for the Hyundai but chose to skip it, only British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen chose to play elsewhere. Good choice. South African Oosthuizen played in the Africa Open for the first time and won it for the first time as well. Despite missing the first American event, Oostie will be a full-timer in the States in 2011 and could be a season-long factor.
One helpful TV viewer cost Camilo Villegas a certain paycheck at the no-cut Hyundai. During Thursday’s round Villegas chipped up a steep bank at No. 15, only to have the ball roll back toward him. While the ball was still in motion, Villegas harmlessly pawed at some loose turf with his club. Uh-oh. Rule 23-1 states: “When a ball is in motion, a loose impediment that might influence the movement of the ball must not be removed.” Some eager-beaver viewer apparently knew the rule better than Camilo did and informed the world via Twitter. By the time the mistake was uncovered, Villegas had signed his scorecard without the appropriate penalty, and as even I know, a signed incorrect scorecard means disqualification. Stupid, yes, but them’s the rules.
News broke over the weekend that Dustin Johnson and Natalie Gulbis have embarked on a romantic relationship. Don’t know if it’ll last, but those would be some handsome kids.