One of the greatest bonuses for being a winner on the PGA Tour is the opportunity to get a head start on your competition the following year.
The winners-only Hyundai Tournament of Champions provides that prospect and it was Jonathan Byrd who took advantage – jumping to the top of the PGA Tour standings.
It was a promising launch to the 2011 season and the folks at PGA Tour Headquarters had to be pretty pleased to see a showdown in paradise take place with a playoff between two very likeable players. Especially with a prime-time television slot. What better way to get fans fired up for the year ahead?
A missed birdie putt to reach 25 under and win outright forced Byrd into a playoff with big-bombing Robert Garrigus who had whiffed a chance of his own (his putt was for eagle)on his final hole that would have nabbed him the win.
Byrd looked mis-matched in the playoff, giving up a huge length advantage to Garrigus in the playoff but his steady formed paid off in the end. After both making pars on the 1st extra hole each played conservatively to the putting surface on the next hole.
Byrd cozied up his birdie approach, tapping it in for par while his competitor rushed his attempt to win outright just a little too far past the hole. His hurried putt caught little more than the edge of the hole and with that the first PGA Tour winner of 2011 was declared.
Garrigus, who was solid all week on the greens with his unusually short, 28” putter, admitted he made a critical mistake on his last stroke. “I just hit it too hard” he said in his post round television interview. “I wanted to take the break out of it. I played it inside right. I should’ve played it a little straighter.”
As for Byrd, he was elated with the victory, the 5th of his career on the PGA Tour, and a guaranteed spot in the field of the same event for 2012.
“I felt good out there all day, “said the 32 year-old Anderson, South Carolina native. “I just kept giving myself opportunities.”
That strategy continues to work for Byrd who had a lot of momentum coming into this year. After a slow start in 2010 he capped off his Fall with a stupendous playoff victory at the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospital For Children Open where he made an ace on the 1st extra hole to earn his spot in the field this week.
This victory not only earns him $1.12 million but also gives him the lead in the FedEx Cup Points with 500. He also bolsters his chances of representing the United States in the President’s Cup this Fall. With this early thrust he sets himself up for what could be his record season. His best year financially on the Tour was 2007 when he won just over $1.8 million.
Weather conditions were perfect at Maui’s Kapalua Plantation and more than a few players made a charge for the 1st win of the PGA Tour season as a result.
Graeme McDowell made the greatest advance on the field on Sunday. His 11 birdies added up to a record tying round of 62, good enough for third place. A missed short on the 18th was all that kept him out of joining Byrd and Garrigus in the playoff but apparently a 12th birdie was too much to ask for.
“I knew the guys were going to go low today. I just tried to keep my head down out there,” said McDowell of his incredible advance.
It was pretty impressive play from a guy who had just made an equipment sponsor switch from Callaway to Srixon. That said, he did have maintain two of the most critical clubs in his bag, the Callaway FT-Tour driver and Odyssey putter that he carried over from his old mix of sticks.
European Tour: Louis Louis!
While many of the world’s top players were enjoying the Hawaiian sunshine, another impressive cadre of players was tipping it up in the Africa Open in East London, Eastern Cape, South Africa
2010 British Open Champion Louis Oosthuizen returned to form to win a three-way playoff with Chris Wood and Manuel Quiros.
Oosthuizen converted an 8 foot putt on the 1st extra hole to earn his third European Tour victory and 158,000 Euro.