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Golf is Back

Jonathan Byrd

[Kohjiro Kinno, Sports Illustrated]

I realize this won’t interest many of you, but I’ve been meaning to write all week about the good news that the golf season has begun. The PGA Tour opens every year with the Tournament of Champions, which brings together the players who won PGA tournaments the previous season. Some of them anyway. Not everyone wants to start so early. Those who choose to make the trip get to hang out in Maui with their families, an attraction for some, but not all.

Unfortunately, the result is a limited-field, no-cut tournament that isn’t always especially interesting. But it’s golf, the first serious men’s tournament in months, and that means Sunday afternoons are interesting again. You can have the NFL. And the NBA. Give me golf.

Alas, this really wasn’t one of the more exciting Tournaments of Champions. I wanted to care, but I didn’t. I actually watched more football this weekend than golf. I caught the end of the tournament though. I turned it on after Graeme McDowell had shot an amazing round of 62, 11 under par, to finish at 23 under. Tied with him at 23 under and on the 18th fairway was Robert Garrigus. Back on the 17th fairway at 24 under was tournament leader Jonathan Byrd. One of the three would win.

The 18th at Kapalua is a stunning hole, a 660 yard par 5 with an enormous elevation drop, making it reachable in 2 for long hitters. As I turned on the coverage, Garrigus was preparing from 295 yards away to make his approach into the green. He hit a monster, reaching the front edge of the green and rolling down towards the flag, finishing about 10 feet away and setting him up for a potential eagle that would put him in the lead. Behind him Byrd was about 90 feet short of the flag with his approach, leaving him a long two-putt to stay at 24 under.

Garrigus would just miss his eagle putt. The ball went by 2 1/2 feet, requiring a tricky little return putt for birdie, which he sank. Byrd two-putted for par. Thus, Garrigus finished his round tied with Byrd at 24 under, eliminating McDowell from contention. Byrd would win if he could birdie 18. A par would lead to a playoff.

You can see the problem here. McDowell is now one of the glamour boys of golf. But how many people are going to seek out the Golf Channel to watch the closing moments of the tournament, eager to find out if Byrd can eke out a win over Garrigus or if instead there will be a playoff? Well, I know there’s at least one person who will. And I did.

On 18, Byrd laid up with his second shot on, hit a wedge to about 20 feet, and left his birdie putt short, settling for par and a playoff. At this point, I had tested Gail’s patience enough. We didn’t stick around for the playoff, which Byrd would go on to win on the second hole.

Three months until the Masters. Thanks to his win, Byrd will be there. Maybe this is the year that we go too. That would be something.

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Categories: Golf
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