Birdies spark Byrd's late rally at John Deere Classic
SILVIS, Ill. -- Jonathan Byrd didn't like 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, added two more on 16 and 17, and finished with a 5-under 66 Sunday to win the John Deere Classic and qualify for the British Open.
John Deere Classic
1. Byrd (-18)
2. Clark (-17)
T-3. Matteson (-15)
T-3. Green (-15)
5. Pettersson (-14)
• Complete scores
It was the third PGA Tour victory for Byrd, who finished the tournament at 18-under 266 -- one stroke ahead of Tim Clark (68). Third-round leader Nathan Green (71) finished in a tie for third with Troy Matteson (66) three strokes back.
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 the 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," he 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. That didn't happen.
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 putt for birdie rolled wide left, giving Byrd the victory and a spot in the British Open.
"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 his 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, who was one shot behind Green at 14 under through three rounds, birdied four of the first nine holes to go 18 under and take a three-stroke lead.
He went ahead by one stroke with a birdie on No. 3, his second of the round. He tapped in to go 16 under after he nearly aced the hole. Green, in the final pairing with Clark, fell to 15 under when he missed a 13-foot putt for par and settled for bogey. He moved back into a tie with a birdie on No. 4, but slid out of contention from there.
A bogey on 7 put him at 15 under, and another on 12 left him 1 over for the day and in a tie for third at 14 under.
Byrd made a late push with birdies on 14 and 16 to go 17 under. Clark, who was in the final pairing with Green, was at 18 under after a bogey on 15. Things got interesting when he drove his tee shot on 16 into a bunker to the left of the green. He dug out and knocked in a short putt to save par and remain in the lead, but it didn't last.
Best known as the South African not named Ernie Els or Retief Goosen, Clark made a name for himself when he finished two strokes behind Phil Mickelson at the Masters last year. And he made another push for the green jacket this year when he was tied for the lead through 36 holes before finishing in a tie for 13th.
That prize ultimately went to Zach Johnson, who missed the cut at the Deere.
Green, 32, 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 sustain the momentum built the previous two days.
He had spent three weeks back home in New South Wales, Australia, and quickly got over the jet lag after returning to the U.S. on Monday. He grabbed the lead with a 63 in the second round and maintained it with a 68 on Saturday, but stalled in the final round.
"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.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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