Jonathan Byrd used an unimaginable five-hole stretch to carry him to victory in the Buick Challenge. He shot 9-under 63 to finish the event at 27-under-par 261, one shot clear of David Toms.
Toms trailed by five strokes midway through the back nine. He rallied to cut his deficit to a single shot, however, but his Sunday 65 proved to be one too many.
Byrd shattered the 72-hole tournament scoring record, which previously stood at 21-under-par 267. They played under lift, clean and place rules this week, though, due to the soggy conditions at Callaway Gardens Resort in Pine Mountain, Ga. The score in relation to par was one stroke higher than the tours overall mark, set by John Huston in the 1998 Sony Open, and matched by Mark Calcavecchia in the 2001 Phoenix Open.
Byrd earned $666,000 for win No. 1. He moved from 97th to 41st on the money list. A good finish in next week's Southern Farm Bureau Classic would put him inside the top 40, and give him an exemption into the the 2003 Masters.
'My goals for the year were to finish in the top 40 and I wanted to win a tournament,' Byrd said. 'And now I've won a tournament.'
Jonathan Byrd talks about his win.
The 24-year-old former All-America at Clemson University joins the ever-increasing list of maiden champions on tour this season, but becomes the first rookie to accomplish that feat.
He started the day two shots back of overnight leaders Huston and Tim Herron. Huston wasnt able to carry over the momentum from his Saturday 61, and shot 70 to finish tied for fourth. Herron could only muster an even-par 72 to tie for 10th.
Byrd posted a routine 3-under 33 on the outward half to stay in contention before blowing past everyone on the back nine.
He played holes 11-15 in 7-under-par, including bookend 30- and 40-foot eagles during that stretch. In fact, all the putts holed during that winning run were in excess of 15 feet.
But his good fortune began at the par-4 seventh, when his tee shot hit his finacee, Amanda Talley, who was walking along the right side of the fairway. Instead of the ball finishing where he would have had to pitch out into the fairway, it bounced off her left shoulder, and then off the cart path into a favorable lie in the rough. He went on to birdie the hole.
'She took one for the team,' Byrd said. 'She did as much to help me win this tournament as I did.'
After dropping the eagle effort at 15, Byrd was five shots clear of the field. But a missed green at the par-3 16th led to a bogey, and when Toms also eagled the 15th, the lead was down to just two.
Byrd parred 17 and 18, but had to wait to see if Toms could catch him.
Toms birdied 17 to cut his deficit to one. And with the rain turning from a drizzle to a nuisance, he had 18 feet to force a playoff at the last. He took one deep breath and a couple of practice strokes, but the ball missed on the left-hand side.
'You want it so bad because you always know you can do it,' said Byrd. 'The greatest thing in the world is to hit great shots when you need them the most.'
Phil Mickelson matched Byrds 63 to finish alone in third place at 23-under. Kenny Perry shot 65 to finish in a tie for seventh. Perry, who started the week in 31st place on the money list, moved inside the top 30 to qualify for the upcoming Tour Championship.
Brad Faxon finished tied for 64th this week to fall out of the top 30.
Final results from the Buick Challenge