The most interesting thing on the Hyundai Tournament of Champions leaderboard is that the leader is the same improbable guy who won it last year. Jonathan Byrd won a return trip to this winners-only event with that win, but few had him high in their expectations.
Only one the ten PgaTour.com Experts chose Byrd, but that was because he picked 9th and all the other favorite choices were gone. They are allowed to reveal who they would have picked if they went 1st and he went with Keegan Bradley. The 10th expert said that she would have picked Byrd 1st. She’s the true believer.
And it’s interesting how the daisy chain of events works: Byrd made a hole-in-one in the dark in a playoff to win Las Vegas back in 2010…which got him into the TOC in 2011…which he won…which got him the first round lead in 2012.
And when Byrd finally got on the course, he looked for all the world that he was going to run away with it. After two steadying pars, he reeled off six birdies in row. He was making putts from everywhere. “I looked at my stats from last year on 10 to 25 foot putts and they were pretty bad,” he said. “I’ve been practicing them. And I’m a guy who likes big breaking putts, so that’s what I’ve been doing.” Which is precisely what’s required on the rollicking greens of the Kapalua Plantation Course.
Later in the media room, he was asked what he thought was responsible for the six birdies:
No, it’s amazing how good it feels, too, once you get out there. You’re kind of a little anxious to start out. I’m always nervous. I don’t think that’ll ever go away. I just kind of get excited to compete and get out there, and I’m a little nervous. And you’re just kind of…I never really play my best when I’m just really confident. I do my best when I’m a little uneasy and I’m really kind of managing my misses around the golf course and not trying to just flag it.
And I think you’ve got to play this golf course that way because of all the conditions and slopes. But just to get out there, you’re just kind of like, whoa, six birdies in a row. I can’t remember the last time I did that. It’s been a while.
And with that “whoa,” he proceeded to bogey two of the next three holes. You start thinking about it and that’s what happens. To his credit he birdied two more to get back to 6-under with a one-shot lead.
Byrd leads four guys: Michael Bradley, Martin Laird (who also had eight birdies), Steve Stricker (No. 6 in the World Rankings) and Webb Simpson (No. 2 on last year’s money list). Keegan Bradley is one stroke behind them. So all in all, a pretty nice leaderboard.
There was a rules issue that came up mid-round with Nick Watney and his caddie. They were on the green lining up a putt and both crouched behind the ball. Watney appears to be talking to the caddie without turning his head. And the caddie, looking down at the green, makes a palm-down gesture with his left hand clearly above the green indicating that the grain in the green is moving from right-to-left.
And then he made an identical motion in which he appeared to be feeling the nap of the green as if to confirm what he had just seen and indicated to Watney. But you can’t do that. The rules say that you can not test the surface of the green by touching it.
In that situation, nobody says anything to either the player or caddie because they don’t want to disturb the player’s concentration: the deed is done; he either touched the green for that purpose or he didn’t. They wait until the player gets into Scoring to tell him what they saw on television and give him a chance to say what happened before he signs his scorecard. Do you add the two-stroke penalty or not?
Frequently, the player hasn’t got a clue that anything was wrong, so they go to the television production truck to look at the video. In this instance–with everyone on the broadcast agreeing that it was infraction, however innocent–the caddie said that he wouldn’t have done that–he knew better–and that you could see the shadow of his hand on the green. There was daylight in there somewhere.
Watney backed his caddie and the official, Slugger White, backed their assertion, saying later that it was up to them to determine if there was an infraction and he “didn’t see an infraction.” White is a highly respected official.
Given what the announcers had said and what it surely looked like happened, I thought there was going to be a big blowback on Twitter. But it was pretty quiet. In fact, to Sports Illustrated’s request for comments, there was only one.
But it does make the case that if you arrive at the scene of an accident and you ask ten people what happened, you’ll get ten versions. People’s perceptions are their truths; we don’t always have micrometers available for testing.
The Faldo/Miller Fireworks…
…fizzled. Nick Faldo and Johnny Miller, the two color commentators that everyone thought–and some even hoped–would be too volatile to contain in such close quarters…weren’t.
They were perfect, congenial gentlemen who were both informative and amusing. That seemed to be the consensus on Twitter and it was what I had hoped would happen in “Avoiding a Train Wreck.”