Wednesday, November 25, 2015         


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Week to week, anyone can win; just ask Wilson

By Paul Arnett


Jonathan Byrd exited the scorer's tent on the wrong side of the course.

After hearing the roar rise over Waialae Country Club at 18, signifying Mark Wilson's Sony Open in Hawaii victory, Byrd tidied up a bit at the No. 9 green 10 minutes later and 11 strokes behind.

The Sunday before, Byrd hoisted the Hyundai Tournament of Champions trophy signifying the biggest victory of his career. A week later? Tie for 34th. Such is life on tour. Winner one fortunate moment in time, back in the pack the next.

Ernie Els remains the only player to win these two events to open the PGA Tour season since their marriage in 1999. It's unlikely anyone will match that feat as long as the Plantation Course and Waialae Country Club are open for business.

Matt Kuchar and Steve Stricker didn't take home any hardware or million-dollar checks, but they were the most consistent golfers over the first two weeks. Both earned top-10s on Maui and Oahu, showcasing their talents of being long in one tournament and accurate the next.

Wilson gets that opportunity in 2012. He became the fifth golfer in 13 years to win at Sony without opening the season on Maui. While 23 of his Hyundai mates sported nice Hawaii tans at this week's Sony, Wilson looked like a cast member from "True Blood."

He spent his offseason in frigid Chicago, where the sun makes rare appearances, so whipping his game into shape this quickly is a pleasant surprise for the 36-year-old from a town in Wisconsin with more vowels than Waialae - Menomonee Falls.

It's the third tour win for Wilson, who is cut from similar cloth as Byrd. The two Midwestern lads are atop the FedEx Cup leaderboard entering tomorrow's Bob Hope Classic. Byrd will sit out this five-day event in the desert, but Wilson will play on, buoyed by his newfound success that keeps him exempt on tour through 2013.

Both will be at the Masters in April. Both are better known to the golfing world than they were when 2011 began and both are part of an American contingent where little separates anyone from anybody else.

To win, you have to play the final 42 holes without a bogey as Wilson did over the weekend. You have to save par as many times as you make birdie. Case in point is the 17th on Sunday, when Wilson rolled in a 10-foot knee-knocker for par, keeping the fast-closing Steve Marino from gaining ground.

It's those kind of moments that separate you from the pack. And with today's fields so balanced, you have to be on top of your game every moment to be the last one standing on Sunday.

That's tough to do over the course of a season where practically every one of the 144 players entered each week can win. Just ask Tim Clark. He finished second for the ninth time in a tour event on Sunday, after finally winning last year to earn the right to play in the TOC.

Much like Graeme McDowell did last week on Maui, where his final-round 62 left him one shot shy of the playoff with Byrd and Robert Garrigus, Clark needed a little help from Wilson after going 66-64 over the closing 36 holes. Didn't get it. Now, it's on to the Hope, where Clark finished last year, you guessed it, tied for second.

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