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Early Byrd

    Jonathan Byrd earned an automatic invitation to the Masters yesterday, and with his second win in the last two months, he is exempt for the U.S. Open.

KAPALUA, MAUI » It took an All-American effort for an American to finally win the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.

Jonathan Byrd outlasted Robert Garrigus yesterday, capturing a weeklong shootout with par on the second playoff hole at Kapalua’s Plantation Course.

It was his second win in as many starts. Byrd qualified for Kapalua in his final 2010 event, when he became the first golfer to win a playoff with a hole-in-one. Going into the Fall Series, he was in danger of losing his playing privileges.

So was Garrigus, which only made the two Americans appreciate yesterday’s drama more.

"I’m just thankful," Byrd said. "I’m overwhelmed, I’m grateful. All of the above."

So was Garrigus, gracious to what could have been a bitter end, if he had let it.

On the final playoff hole — No. 1, which Garrigus bogeyed yesterday and double-bogeyed Saturday — Byrd nearly drained a 53-foot birdie putt. Then Garrigus three-putted for bogey.

He lipped out a 3 1/2-foot par putt to make Byrd the first American TOC champion since Jim Furyk in 2001.

"I just hit that putt too hard," said the irrepressible Garrigus, who was signing autographs and giving away all his golf balls while waiting to see how Byrd would finish regulation. "I was trying to take all the break out of it, played it straight and pushed it a centimeter and it hit that lip and didn’t go in."

Both fired 6-under-par 67s in yesterday’s final round to close at 24-under 268. It was the third-best winning score since the TOC moved here in 1999.

The low scores were a testament to Kapalua’s idyllic conditions and the golfers’ brilliance in the 2011 season opener. Garrigus and Byrd poured in birdies, and a few eagles, all week and so did pretty much everybody else.

The golf was so good that U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell was out of it minutes after tying the course record with an outrageous 11-under-par 62. His remarkable day ended anticlimactically when he parred the 18th for the fourth straight round and came up a shot short of the playoff.

The Plantation’s stunning closing hole proved anticlimactic for everybody yesterday.

Garrigus, who led the tour in driving last year, was 4 under on the 663-yard final hole this week. But he missed a 12-foot eagle putt that could have won it in regulation yesterday.

Byrd, who shared the lead with Garrigus and Steve Stricker going into the day, had a birdie putt to win on the last hole. He came up short on the 18-footer.

Garrigus and Byrd went back up to the 18th tee and tried it again on the first playoff hole. This time Garrigus could not get there in two, and his distance advantage suddenly became a disadvantage.

He was the only one in the 32-man field to reach the 18th three times this week and had never had the chip he faced. He left it 17 feet from the hole and needed a 3-footer coming back to extend the playoff.

He made that one, but missed the next. And smiled, still.

"It was a great week," he insisted. "I mean, I shot 6 under today and was in a playoff. I felt like I won the tournament within the tournament for myself because I told myself if I could shoot 6 under I could win.

"That’s golf. I’ve lost about 133 golf tournaments and it’s not that big a deal."

Byrd has been there. This was his fifth win, but he went nearly three years without one until that extraordinary hole-in-one.

"I have to say it was God’s blessing," Byrd said. "Every good and perfect thing comes from Him, good and bad. It all comes in different packages so I have to give credit where it is due.

"And perseverance. I’ve worked hard. … not changing anything, just keep working at it, keep plugging. I just kept doing that at the end of the year and it paid off."

Again and again, now.

Byrd pointed to his second shot at the 10th — after a "little shank-cut" off the tee — that led to birdie as a critical swing yesterday. He converted the 11-foot putt to ease the sting of missing a 4-footer the previous hole.

Then, on the 15th, he hit it within 5 feet to get to 24-under. It would become the magic number after Garrigus was left to lament a missed 4-footer at No. 10 and the eagle that got away, and that pesky first hole.

He still walked away with a huge grin, and $635,000 — about what he earned in 2008 and 2009. Since he won at Disney in his last start last year, he is a new man.

"It’s mental," he said. "Just thinking in my brain that I am better than everybody on the course; regardless if I may be, I have to feel like I am better than every single person mentally and talent-wise. … It’s a lot of fun to think you’re good and actually do it. It’s a blast."

He was better than almost everyone here, including McDowell, who is ranked fifth in the world and tied his career low yesterday. Only Byrd, who has spent the last few months trying to simplify his golf life, could claim anything else.

Byrd birdied the first hole and led for the first 3 hours yesterday. McDowell and Garrigus finally caught him, but could never overtake him. Byrd rode his 2010 momentum to a $1.12 million payday in 2011.

"You get to a point where you kind of have a gut check," Byrd said. "You get to a point where you might lose your card, which is where I was last year, and it forces you to find a way to play well."

Now, the plan is not to change anything at this week’s Sony Open in Hawaii. Garrigus, who will also be at Waialae Country Club, would only like to change the ending.

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