SILVIS, Ill. (AP) — Jonathan Byrd could see it all again. There was the look in Vijay Singh’s eyes as he stepped to the first tee, the aggression that took him to a victory in the John Deere Classic four years earlier.
Byrd did all he could to reproduce it Sunday.
He birdied three of the final five holes and shot a 5-under 66 Sunday to win the Deere Classic and qualify for the British Open, and afterward, he thought back to that pairing with Singh.
“When he came out on that first hole with that complete mind-set, ‘I’m going to win this golf tournament. I’m going to play aggressive. I’m going to fire at every flag and just play aggressive,”’ said Byrd, who was in the final group with Singh in 2003.
This time, it was Byrd’s turn.
He earned his third PGA Tour victory, finishing at 18-under 266 – one stroke ahead of Tim Clark (68). Third-round leader Nathan Green (71) and Troy Matteson (66) tied for third, three strokes back.
Byrd didn’t like what he saw when he glanced at the leaderboard on his way to the 14th hole, and things weren’t looking much better for him when his tee shot sailed wide right.
Then, his fortunes changed.
He birdied that hole, sinking a 16-foot putt that “kept me in the golf tournament,” added two more birdies on 16 and 17.
Byrd had missed four straight cuts and didn’t bother to bring his passport, so he had to go home to Georgia before heading to Scotland.
“I haven’t been playing well, and, I don’t know, maybe I thought that would be a jinx or something,” he said.
Byrd, who won the 2002 Buick Challenge and 2004 B.C. Open, moved into a tie with Clark with a birdie on 17. Clark found a bunker short of the green on 17 and sent a 6-foot putt for par wide left for a bogey that put him at 17 under and in second place.
“On 17, I had a go at the green, and that’s really the only shot of the day I mis-hit,” Clark said. “I fully expected to be able to get it up to the green-side bunker, and instead, it plugged in the lip of the bunker 20 yards short of the green. And from there, I just had no play.”
Byrd finished with a par on 18, meaning Clark needed a birdie to force a playoff.
Instead, Byrd watched as Clark’s approach on the par-4 hole settled on the left edge of the green – just under 71 feet from the cup. His long putt for birdie rolled wide left, giving Byrd the victory.
“Right when he hit it, the announcer said he thought it was a little bit left,” said Byrd, who finished a few minutes earlier. “I had kind of hit that putt for more the middle of the green, and I knew it wasn’t going to come back to the right.”
It didn’t, and that secured the 29-year-old Byrd’s third win – the most by an active American-born player under 30. Charles Howell III has two victories.
Early on, Clark appeared poised to earn his first tour victory.
He took several cortisone shots for neck pain two weeks ago and had said he might skip the British Open even if he qualified at the Deere because he was worried the pain would flare up on the long flight. On Sunday, he said he would have gone but that became a non-issue late in the day.
Clark made a name for himself when he finished two strokes behind Phil Mickelson at the Masters last year. And the South African made another push for the green jacket this year when he was tied for the lead through 36 holes before tying for 13th.
That prize ultimately went to Zach Johnson, who missed the cut at the Deere.
Green was in good position to earn his first tour victory and become the third Australian in four years to take the Deere Classic, but he could not maintain the lead he built the previous two days.
“I just felt terrible with my swing and managed to recover a little bit at the end, but it was a struggle all day,” Green said.