Byrd ‘overwhelmed’ after playoff victory

KAPALUA, Hawaii — Jonathan Byrd had a silver trophy at his side and a lei draped around his neck, a winner Sunday in the Tournament of Champions, even if the playoff didn’t end the way anyone imagined.

“Pretty overwhelmed,” he said.

The emotions went beyond his victory in the PGA Tour’s season opener when Robert Garrigus, the biggest hitter on tour, missed a 3-foot par putt on the second extra hole at Kapalua.

Just more than three months ago, Byrd thought he might lose his card for the first time in his career. He was outside the top 125 on the money list, and not much was going his way.

Then came a hole-in-one in near darkness to win at Las Vegas in a playoff, getting him to Maui for the Tournament of Champions. He made it two straight wins by closing with a 6-under-par 67 and winning despite Garrigus’ length advantage in the playoff.

“I can’t sit here and not think about where I was toward the end of the season last year, fighting for my card,” he said. “I’m just thankful, I’m overwhelmed, I’m grateful, all of the above.”

Garrigus — his name might as well be “gregarious” — was thankful, too, despite a tough way to lose. He had a 12-foot eagle putt on the last hole in regulation that would have been enough to win. He failed to take advantage of his length on the par-5 18th in the playoff, hitting a poor chip that fooled him. And with a 9-iron to the green on No. 1 in the playoff — Byrd hit 3-iron — he couldn’t get it closer than 40 feet.

Garrigus ran it 3 feet by the hole, tried to jam it in from there and caught the right lip.

“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, who also shot 67. “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.”

They finished at 24-under 268.

Byrd had an 18-foot birdie putt in regulation to win. He had a 10-foot birdie on the 18th in the playoff to win. No putt came closer than his 50-foot effort on No. 1 in the playoff, the ball just touching the high side of the hole. He tapped in for par and, standing to the side of the green, began planning his next shot in the playoff at the par-3 second.

Garrigus put a sad end to it all.

“He just gave it a little too much gas and missed the next putt coming back,” Byrd said.

Byrd won for the fifth time in his career, and this was the biggest. He never had won on tour earlier than July. He never had beaten a field this strong, with only PGA Tour winners from last year. And this one came with perks. Byrd earned an automatic invitation to the Masters, and, with back-to-back tour wins, he is exempt for the U.S. Open.

Graeme McDowell nearly joined them in the playoff. The U.S. Open champion, coming off a dream season, matched the Plantation Course record with an 11-under 62 and finished one shot behind. McDowell had a 10-foot birdie putt on the last hole that just missed.

Steve Stricker, tied with Byrd and Garrigus going into the final round, shot 71 and tied for fourth with Carl Pettersson (68).

McDowell started the final round six shots out of the lead, and he told one of the locker room attendants that he probably would need a 59 to have any kind of chance.

He gave it quite a ride. He ran off four straight birdies early in the round to make the turn in 30 and get within range. After scolding himself for missing an 8-foot birdie try on the 12th, McDowell responded with four straight birdies, including a 20-footer down the slope on the 15th after playing a safe pitch.

■ EUROPEAN PGA — At East London, South Africa, British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen won a three-way playoff on the first hole to secure the Africa Open title.

The South African shot 3-under 70 in the final round for a 16-under 276 total and sank a 12-foot birdie on the 18th to dash the hopes of England’s Chris Wood (68) and Spain’s Manuel Quiros (69).

It was Oosthuizen’s first victory since the British Open at St. Andrews in July.

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