Shin wins first event of the season
It had been 10 years since Jim Furyk won the season-opening Tournament of Champions, and Byrd reached the same conclusion as most everyone else. Players like Stuart Appleby and Geoff Ogilvy, who combined for five of those wins, had been playing deep into the previous season in Australia. That or the fact Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson stopped coming to Maui.
“I said it was about time for an American to win,” Byrd said. “I just didn’t know it would be me. But I’ll take it.”
Perhaps it was no coincidence that a sudden-death playoff on Sunday came down to Byrd and Robert Garrigus, who won the last two tournaments on the PGA Tour schedule.
Garrigus was in danger of losing his card until winning Disney. In the previous domestic event, Byrd won a three-man playoff in Las Vegas by making an ace in near darkness for perhaps the most stunning win on tour all year.
“There’s definitely some momentum,” Byrd said. “I spoke earlier in the week about how Australians come in here, their game is ready and they come sharp and come hungry and they play well here. And maybe Robert and I, just getting a taste of victory at the end of last year, was enough for us to ride it into this week.”
The way it ended? Not many saw that coming.
Byrd and Garrigus each closed with a 6-under 67 to finish on 24-under 268, and both had a chance to win in regulation.
Garrigus, in the second-to-last group, hit what he described as a “smoke, bullet draw” with a 5-wood to 12 feet on the par-5 18th, and his eagle putt narrowly missed. Byrd couldn’t reach the green against the Kona wind, hit a weak wedge to 18 feet and his birdie putt for the win stopped short of the cup.
Garrigus had the advantage with his length – he has led the PGA Tour in driving distance the last two years. That didn’t help him on the 18th in the playoff, but did on the second extra hole – No. 1, which plays 528 yards downhill but into the breeze.
Garrigus nailed it. Byrd didn’t.
Byrd had a 3-iron left to reach the green. Garrigus had a 9-iron from the rough just beyond the end of the fairway.
It all changed from there.
Both left their shots some below the hole, a fast putt because it goes with the grain growing toward the Pacific. From 50 feet, Byrd played it perfectly, and the ball caught the top part of the cup and left him a tap-in par. Garrigus hit his a little firm and had 3 feet left.
He missed it.
“I just hit that putt too hard,” Garrigus said. “I was trying to take all the break out of it, played straight and I pushed it a centimeter and it hit that lip and didn’t go in.”
Garrigus might as well be called “gregarious.”
Few had a better time on the Plantation Course at Kapalua, whether he was bombing drives, showing off his improved wedge game or hitting putts with his 28-inch putter, in which he stoops and holds a club that barely reaches his knees.
Even by winning in a fashion that can be uncomfortable – not his heroics, but another’s misfortunes – Byrd couldn’t help but notice.
“What a great display of sportsmanship,” Byrd said. “He’s smiling in the playoff, he was probably smiling when he doubled the first hole yesterday, and he was smiling after he missed that putt. My hat’s off to him.”
Pity that the playoff reached a second hole, which was No. 1. Garrigus took double bogey on Saturday, and he made a bogey on Sunday from a fairway bunker.
Then again, the 18th hole wasn’t terribly friendly to Graeme McDowell.
Someone forgot to tell the U.S. Open champion that 2010 is over, for the man from Northern Ireland showed he wasn’t quite ready to leave a dream season. Even though he started the final round six shots back, McDowell played as though he had something to prove.
He made 11 birdies through 16 holes and suddenly was atop the leaderboard, although others still had birdie holes ahead of them. McDowell had a 6-foot birdie putt on the final hole that he hit too hard. If he had made it, McDowell would have been in the playoff.
He had to settle for a 62, matching the Plantation Course record set by K.J. Choi in the third round of 2003. Most frustrating was that he didn’t birdie the 18th hole all week.
“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.’
“It was just a fun day out there. This golf course is just ‘green light’ all day.”
Byrd was standing on the edge of the first green as Garrigus faced his 40-foot birdie putt for the win, which would have been unlikely. As Garrigus stood over his 3-footer for par, Byrd already was thinking about his next shot.
And then it was over.
For Byrd, his fifth career victory was by far the biggest. He has never won before July, and this has caused him to reconsider the season. He’s headed to the Masters and U.S. Open with this win. He’ll get in at least one World Golf Championship, maybe all of them.
And to think that three months ago, he thought he might lose his card.
“Pretty overwhelmed,” he said.
Country singer Owen shoots 86 in Web.com debut
Country music star Jake Owen struggled in his Web.com Tour debut, shooting a 14-over 86 in the opening round of the Nashville Golf Open.
Owen, who played as a 1 handicap earlier this year while teaming with Jordan Spieth at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, put three balls out of bounds over his first nine holes, including two en route to a quadruple-bogey 9 on the par-5 18th hole. After making the turn in 46, Owen came home in 40 without making a single birdie.
Owen is playing as an amateur on an unrestricted sponsor exemption, the same type used by NBA superstar Steph Curry on the Web.com Tour last year and by former NFL quarterback Tony Romo this year on the PGA Tour. Curry missed the cut after rounds of 74-74 at the Ellie Mae Classic, while Romo shot 77-82 at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship.
Owen tallied nine pars, six bogeys, two doubles and a quad in his opener and was the only player from the morning wave who failed to break 80. The closest player to him in the standings was two-time major champ Angel Cabrera, who opened with a 79.
While Owen struggled against a field full of professionals, he took the setback in stride and even took to Twitter in the middle of his round to fire back at some of his online critics:
No prob Doug. I’m +11 now and tweeting during my round. I’m playing as hard as I can. I have 8 holes left if you want to come out and kiss my ass. https://t.co/UMeFWFKLVP— Jake Owen (@jakeowen) May 24, 2018
New putter propels Hoffman to Fort Worth lead
After sitting at home last week, Charley Hoffman decided it was time for a change.
The veteran estimated that he has been using the same version of a Scotty Cameron putter for the last five years, but heading into this week's Fort Worth Invitational he wanted to shake things up.
"I had an idea on Sunday literally coming out here that I wanted to have a little more weight in my putter," Hoffman told reporters. "I went with one that was sort of in my bag of putters at home that I could add some weight here."
The swap provided immediate results, as Hoffman opened with a 7-under 63 while picking up more than two strokes over the field on the greens to take a one-shot lead over Emiliano Grillo, Jhonattan Vegas and Andrew Putnam. It was an all-around effort Thursday for Hoffman, as he missed only two greens in regulation and never faced a par putt longer than 5 feet.
"I was able to knock in some mid-range putts and played very solid," Hoffman said. "It was a nice, very stress-free round. It was fun to play."
Hoffman had one of the best seasons of his career in 2017, capping it with a Presidents Cup appearance and a runner-up finish at the Hero World Challenge in December. While he has made nine cuts in 12 starts this year, his T-12 finish at the Masters remains his best result as he has struggled to turn top-20s into opportunities to contend.
Hoffman is making his seventh straight appearance at Colonial, where he tied for 10th in 2015. But he had never shot better than 65 before Thursday, when his decision to switch to a heavier Scotty Cameron model seemingly put a magnet on the bottom of the cup.
"Putting is a fickle part of the game," he said. "So hopefully the good mojo continues."
McIlroy shoots 67, two off BMW PGA lead
VIRGINIA WATER, England – Rory McIlroy walked off the 18th green in disgruntled fashion, shaking his head and looking down at the ground.
Shooting a 5-under 67 at Wentworth can rarely have felt so unsatisfactory.
The four-time major winner pushed his approach shot from the middle of the fairway into the overhanging trees at the par-5 last, saw his chip clip the flag pole, then missed a 3-foot putt for birdie for a disappointing end to his first round at the BMW PGA Championship on Thursday.
McIlroy also missed out on a birdie on the par-5 17th, too. Hence his unhappiness immediately after his round, although he was only two shots off the lead held by Lucas Bjerregaard (65).
''Walking off the 16th green and going to No. 17 at 5 under par, it was good after being 1 over after three (holes),'' McIlroy said, before diverting away from revisiting the end of his round.
''I played really well, gave myself plenty of chances, drove it well, for the most part hit my irons a lot better than I have done, so it was nice to get off to a good start.''
McIlroy is playing the European Tour's flagship event for the first time since 2015. He won it in 2014, the year he won The Open and the PGA Championship – his most recent major victories.
After bogeying No. 3, the former top-ranked McIlroy reeled off seven birdies in 13 holes and later said the greens were in the best condition he'd seen them.
Bjerregaard, whose only win came in Portugal last year, made seven birdies in a bogey-free round – his last at No. 18 giving him the outright lead over South Africans Dean Burmester and Darren Fichardt.
Burmester earlier played his last eight holes in 6 under par – including making eagle at the 15th – to draw level with compatriot Fichardt, who was also bogey-free.
Kiradech Aphibarnrat finished 7-6 on the two par 5s to drop from the outright lead at the time to 4 under.
Stricker opens with 65 at Colonial despite back pain
After four holes of the Fort Worth Invitational, things were looking bleak for Steve Stricker.
The ageless veteran was already 1 over when he tweaked his back playing his approach to No. 13, his fourth hole of the day at Colonial Country Club. He ended up making another bogey, but at that point his score took a backseat to the health of his ailing back.
"I tried to hit a pretty solid 6-iron and got right into the impact area, and actually felt my lower back crack right where I had surgery back in 2014, pretty much right on the spot," Stricker told reporters. "Tried to walk to the green and that wasn't going so well. Kind of tightened up on me. I thought I was going to have to stop and just stand there for a minute, which I did a couple of times. It didn't look or feel very good for a while."
Slowly but surely, Stricker's back began to loosen up, and with it came a turnaround on the scorecard. Stricker had a four-hole stretch in the middle of his round that he played in 5 under, highlighted by a hole-out from the greenside bunker for eagle on the par-5 first hole. Despite the rocky start, he ended up shooting a 5-under 65 to sit two shots off the early pace set by Charley Hoffman.
"I just kept plodding along," Stricker said. "I knew there were some birdie holes out here if you can get it in the fairway. There are some short irons."
Stricker had a spot in one of the marquee early-round groups, but his score bettered both Jordan Spieth's 1-under 69 and defending champ Kevin Kisner's 2-over 72. Stricker told reporters that he planned to get his back checked after the round.
Stricker continues to straddle both the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions while crafting a unique schedule, and his appearance this week in Fort Worth came at the expense of skipping the Senior PGA Championnship, a major on the over-50 circuit. But Stricker won at Colonial in 2009 and has now played four straight years on what he described as one of his favorite courses.
"I like to play here. I know I'm going to play John Deere, another favorite tournament of mine, and FedEx St. Jude looks like I am going to try to play in a couple weeks, try to get in the U.S. Open," Stricker said. "So it's just kind of picking them as I go, and seeing where I want to go and seeing what feels good to me at the time."