KAPALUA, MAUI » After being beaten silly by the PGA Tour the first two days, Kapalua Plantation underwent a complete makeover yesterday. By the looks of the scores, none of the golfers noticed.
Kona winds blew in from the south in the third round of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, turning the Plantation upside down.
Nearly everyone landed on his feet, with Steve Stricker, Jonathan Byrd and Robert Garrigus in a three-way tie for first at 18-under-par 201.
The more things changed with the relatively brisk winds yesterday, the more they stayed the same. Only two of last year’s winners (Rocco Mediate and Derek Lamely) were over par going into the third round, and that’s still true today going into the final round. All but seven golfers shot par or better yesterday in dramatically different conditions.
How different? Byrd’s approach shot to the 520-yard downwind par-4 opening hole in Thursday’s tradewinds was 140 yards. Yesterday he "smoked" his drive into the Kona breeze and had 220.
Still, Stricker shot an 8-under 65 that included five straight birdies. He is 18-under — the average winning score here is 20-under — and has made just two putts outside 10 feet. He hits it so close it doesn’t matter.
Kapalua Plantation Course, Par 73
From a fairway bunker 178 yards out yesterday, he "nipped" a 4-iron to 5 feet of the hole on what he termed a "do or die" swing. There were two grass divots lying in the sand, one left of his ball and another right behind it, "blowing back and forth." Hitting either of those in his address or backswing would have been a penalty.
That was the second of his five straight birdies
Garrigus’ day was a more of an adventure than Friday’s 63. He fell out of first immediately when he "chunked" his second shot and had to take a drop, leading to double-bogey on the opening hole. His tee shot on the next hole sailed straight through the green, for bogey.
He was laughing.
"It was really, really funny," Garrigus said. "I was sitting on No. 3 and I’m like, ‘This is awesome. I’ve doubled the first hole and bogeyed the second and I could care less.’ It was one of those fun things where it didn’t matter because I knew we had some birdie holes coming up and I knew my wedge game is exactly where it needs to be.
"This is a great place to be and I’m blessed to be in this tournament, so it’s a little easier to play."
He hit it to 8 feet on the next hole and 12 feet on the fourth, sinking both birdie putts.
Garrigus, who was in danger of losing his playing privileges, again, before winning last year’s final event, got back to even with birdie on the ninth.
He added two more to get within sight of Byrd and Stricker and caught them by burying a speeding 57-foot eagle putt on the 18th, punching the ball in with his best Tadd Fujikawa impression.
"That one was sure sweet," Garrigus said. "If it hadn’t caught the hole I think it would have been off the green. That was a nice way to end the day. That was really nice."
Byrd, the first-round co-leader with Carl Pettersson, got here by winning in Las Vegas when he had the first playoff hole-in-one in PGA Tour history. Three of his four top-10 finishes last year came in his last seven starts.
He was the first to get to 18-under yesterday, nearly holing out from 90 yards at the 16th.
Pettersson is three shots back and Matt Kuchar, No. 1 on last year’s money list, put himself in contention with a 66 that has him four back. Kuchar’s career-best streak of 26 straight greens in regulation ended with his only bogey at No. 17.
No one else is within six.
Pettersson, a Swede, is the only non-American in the top five. No American has won here since 2001.