CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Lucas Glover figures he has played more than 100 rounds with Jonathan Byrd, from junior golf when they were teenagers to their years together at Clemson and nearly a decade on the PGA Tour.
The stakes were never as high as they were Sunday in the Wells Fargo Championship.
Glover was never better.
Clinging to a one-shot lead, Glover closed with three gutsy pars of the brutal finishing stretch at Quail Hollow, slamming his fist when he made the last one from 7 feet for a 3-under 69 and what looked to be a sure win. Then came Byrd, with two great pars of his own, followed by a shot into 15 feet that he made for birdie on the 18th for a 72 to force a playoff.
Glover wound up a winner with a par on the first extra hole, ending a drought of 41 tournaments that stretched nearly two years back to his U.S. Open win at Bethpage Black in 2009.
It was the eighth playoff this year on the PGA Tour, and the third in a row.
“I’m elated,” Glover said. “Any time you win, you’re pleased. It means you beat everybody. You did what you set out to do on Thursday morning when the bell range. Against this field and on this golf course and in a tournament of this magnitude, I’m thrilled.”
And against one of his best friends?
That might have helped. Glover, in his first PGA Tour playoff, felt a sense of calmness playing against Byrd, who had won his last two tournaments in extra holes. And it showed.
In regulation, Glover hooked his tee shot so far left that it settled under a spectator. He was given a drop, then watched the ball roll down the bank toward the stream as he got ready to hit it. Because he never grounded his club – that was his plan, given the lie on a side of a steep hill – he played the next shot without penalty.
“Better stance, worse lie,” he said.
He managed a 6-iron just over the green, hit the most difficult chip he had all day to 7 feet and escaped with another par. In the playoff, however, Glover striped his tee shot down the middle and two-putted from 25 feet.
Byrd, who went from a fairway bunker to the hazard left the green – just short of the stream – hit a difficult chip 25 by the hole and wound up with a bogey.
“I’m a little disappointed just because you’re here to win,” Byrd said. “You love to compete, especially when you get in a playoff. You birdie the last, you feel like, ‘Hey, this is just going to work out.’
“If I couldn’t win, I couldn’t pick anybody else I’d want to win other than Lucas, so I’m very happy for him.”
Glover, who finished on 15-under 273, became the first player in the nine-year history of the tournament to post all four rounds in the 60s. He never would have seen this coming.
He has been going through a divorce the past several months – “I’ll probably leave that over there, if it’s all right,” he said, declined to comment on his personal life – and had only one top 10 over the last year. He missed the cut in his last three events and didn’t have much confidence when he showed up at Quail Hollow.
But he figured out Tuesday on the range that the club wasn’t square, it felt better Wednesday in the pro-am and off he went. This wasn’t the U.S. Open, although the way he was tested over the final hour of a wild day, it felt just as difficult.
Rory Sabbatini, who closed with a 65 and was 13-under 131 on the weekend, wound up alone in third and will move into the top 50 of the world. Now he has to stay there for two more weeks to be exempt for the U.S. Open.
“It just proves that I can’t close, so I’m pretty confident on that,” Perez said, blunt as ever. “You’re never going to win if you play like I did today. That’s just terrible. Embarrassing.”
Glover was four shots behind when he made his move by chipping in for birdie on the eighth and holing a 30-foot eagle on the 10th that gave him the outright lead that he never lost the rest of the way.
Then came a wild ride – bogey-birdie-bogey-birdie – that brought him to the treacherous finish. He saved par from well behind the 16th green. He two-putted from just under 100 feet on the 17th, making a 6-footer for par, then escaped No. 18 with the biggest par of all.
“With a one-shot lead, those three holes you’ve got to execute,” Glover said. “Did I execute the full swing? Who’s to say? But I executed my short game, and I made my putts.”
Byrd was back on the tee when he heard the roar of Glover’s par, knowing he needed birdie.
Glover all but predicted he would.
They had joked before the third round that they would be paired together on Sunday late in the afternoon. They probably didn’t have this late in mind.
“I said, ‘Why don’t we plan on seeing each other tomorrow around 2 – and it was 6,” Glover said. “I think that may be why I knew he was going to make birdie on 18.”
Sabbatini was among five players atop the leaderboard in a wacky final round, and the action was relentless.
It started with the spunky South African, who had only been talked about this week over his profanity-filled argument with Sean O’Hair last week in New Orleans that could lead to a suspension. Sabbatini posted at 14-under 274, and it looked as though it might be enough for a playoff as the Glover, Byrd, Haas and Perez kept finding trouble along the last five holes.
Byrd looked to be in control until closing out the front nine with back-to-back bogeys, then making another one on the 14th when his shot from the right rough also found the water. But he followed with a birdie on the 15th, then punched out of the trees on the 16th and hit his shot from 167 yards to 2 feet for an unlikely par, and closed with a dramatic birdie.
“I’m just a little disappointed with how I played the rest of the 15 holes earlier in the day,” Byrd said.