One shot to start his round, and Robert Garrigus was reeling.
One shot at the end had him celebrating.
The 2011 PGA Tour season kicks off with its annual winners-only showdown at Kapalua.
Garrigus recovered from a double bogey on the opening hole by making a 50-foot putt on the 18th that banged into the back of the cup, went about 3 inches airborne and plopped in for eagle. That gave him a share of the lead Saturday with Steve Stricker and Jonathan Byrd going into the final round at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
“That was a hell of a way to end the round,” Garrigus said after his 4-under 69.
It could be an ever better finish.
Stricker hit every approach inside 20 feet over his last 11 holes and ran off five straight birdies on the back nine, including a 4-iron from a dicey position in the bunker on the 12th. He wound up with an 8-under 65 and was the first player to finish at 18-under 201.
Then came Byrd, who has been around the lead all week. Steady as ever, he failed to birdie either of the par 5s on the back nine, but atoned for that by nearly holing a wedge on the 16th that set up a tap-in birdie. He shot a 67.
Garrigus appeared to be an afterthought after the start he had.
Saturday featured the notorious Kona wind that blows out of the opposite direction, making the Plantation Course at Kapalua play at its longest. Some players had to hit 3-wood on the par-4 opening hole. Garrigus, who has led the PGA Tour in driving distance the last two years, went with a 4-iron and chunked it into the native grass for double bogey.
Then he powered his shot through the wind on the par-3 second and made bogey, out of the lead and falling.
“I thought just getting back to under par for the day was going to be good for me,” Garrigus said. “And when I started to get going, I wasn’t missing any more shots. I was striking it well. That putt on 18 just kind of capped it off. And man, that was really nice.”
Garrigus, who captured his first PGA Tour title by winning at Disney world in the final event of the season, has a chance to become the first player since Tiger Woods in 2000 to win the season opener after winning the last tournament of the previous year.
And with three Americans at the top, it at least improved the odds of ending a nine-year streak of foreign-born winners.
Matt Kuchar had the lead at one point by making seven birdies in a nine-hole stretch, but he played even par over the final six holes for a 66 and wound up four shots out of the lead. U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell shot a 68 as he continued to get used to mountain golf atop the Pacific Ocean. He was six shots behind, along with Bill Haas (69).
Stricker began making his move with a birdie on the ninth hole, but the 12th was his shot of the tournament.
“A do-or-die swing,” he said.
He had a grass divot left of his ball in the bunker, which was no problem. There was a 2-inch piece of grass behind the ball, and he called for a rules official to ask if he could move it, deep down knowing that he couldn’t. What he didn’t realize, however, was Stricker could not touch the grass piece at any point in his swing.
From 178 yards into the wind, he hit 4-iron that he brought from the inside and picked the ball cleanly from the sand. It caught the left side of the green and settled 5 feet away.
“You hit a shot like that, you want to make the putt,” he said. “That was the topper.”
He kept right on going, making a super fast putt on the 13th, using his superb wedge game for easy birdie putts on the 14th and 15th, and ending with another good pitch to 3 feet on the 18th.
“I didn’t think an 8-under round was out there,” he said. “But as I got into a roll on the back side, I kept wanting more.”
Garrigus appears to be having as much fun as anyone, even after his rough start. With that attitude, he could be dangerous in the final round because he has what it takes to win on this course — enormous power and a strong wedge game.
That didn’t mean much to him.
“I don’t have an advantage over a guy who makes everything inside of 10 feet,” Garrigus said. “Steve Stricker is one of the best putters in the world. Jonathan Byrd has proved to be one of the best short-game guys in the world, hits his short irons great. I have to go out there and play my game and take advantage of shots I can take advantage of.
“If I can do that, it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Byrd didn’t spend much time looking at the leaderboard. He plodded along Kapalua, taking in the views of big surf and showing little emotion after some of his birdies. He’s long nearly as long as Garrigus, and doesn’t care.
“I think we played well to get into the position we were today,” Byrd said. “And we shot a good score. So I don’t think there’s anything about our style of play or anything like that.”
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