John Deere Classic round four: Punters undone by a Byrdie
Few at the start of last week would have put Jonathan Byrd’s name in the box for the last Open Championship spot. Even his caddie didn’t think he was up to it, persuading Byrd to skip the Open qualifier and concentrate instead on some confidence-boosting PGA events like the Congressional, John Deere and the upcoming US Bank Championship.
Defeatist thinking or clever psychology from Mike Hicks, the caddie probably better known from his days as bagman for the late Payne Stewart? The latter, it seems, taking the pressure off Byrd to the point where, after four straight missed cuts, his game suddenly clicked on a benign course. So now he finds himself heading for Scotland after all.
Some might argue Hicks almost cost his charge victory with his club selection on the 18th, insisting Byrd hit his second shot with a 9-iron instead of an 8 and leaving the American a perilous 75ft from the hole with two shots for par. Byrd says he fluffed the shot, but I also suspect Hicks was worried his pumped-up player would overhit to a pin at the back of the green, with potentially disastrous consequences.
What a gripping finale that was after it had looked for all the world like Tim Clark was going to run away with it. The commentators already had his name etched on the trophy in their minds and, having decided to lay him and Nathan Green at the start, I was staring at minor disaster.
But the real disaster was reserved for those punters who threw their money on Clark at odds-on as his lead briefly hit four shots after the turn. More than £1m ($2m) went on Clark at less than 2 on Betfair’s winner market alone, with well over a quarter of that sitting on a return of less than 10p in the pound. Ouch!
You could understand their confidence though. Clark was playing like a man possessed, hitting every green in regulation and sinking a string of birdies. Byrd was actually having his worst day with the putter, until he sank that vital 16ft birdie on the 14th, the point at which the match began its dramatic swing.
Was it nerves? Clark says not, nor his neck problem. It was one case of bad luck, when a rake left his ball in an awkward lie on the 15th, and one bad shot on the 17th. You have to feel very sorry for him after the way he played all week. For someone who admits he never usually gets fired up enough for non-majors, that result is going to hurt for a while.
The rest of the gang were a bit of a shower, with particular disappointment reserved for Carl Pettersson, whose fifth place seriously flatters his weekend performance. And Green needs to learn how to cope with stage fright.
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