Medical exemption, money hurdle behind him, Jonathan Byrd having fun again

'I felt like I was carrying a boulder around the golf course...It's freed me up. I feel like a different person'

Jonathan Byrd (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Jonathan Byrd (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Its difficult comprehending money having any affect whatsoever on the recent trials and tribulations of Clemson product Jonathan Byrd.

The 36-year-old has totaled $17.2 million over a career that's included five PGA Tour victories and 42 top-10's, but after missing the Sony Open cut in Hawaii in early January, he was faced with seven tournaments to win $140,877 or risk losing full-time status.

Byrd accomplished that with one tournament to spare, after tying for 32nd at the Valspar Championship, and is finally showing signs of his former confident, free-swinging self. He continued his recent improved play with Thursday's opening 4-under 68 that has him tied for fourth at the Wells Fargo Championship, two back of leader Angel Cabrera at Charlotte's Quail Hollow Club.

"I felt like I was carrying a boulder around the golf course," Byrd said. "And it's freed me up. I feel like a different person. I feel younger. I was starting to look in the mirror during the medical (exemption) and starting to think, man, I think I've aged 10 years. So golf is more fun right now."

Byrd was playing on a PGA medical exemption, which allows a player to combine two partial years into one, giving him a chance to make enough cash to place him within last year's top 125 in earnings.

He missed a significant amount of time after major wrist surgery in late October of 2012. He'd begun this season without finishing inside the top-55 in seven events before last week's missed cut broke a string of four starts of 32nd or better, including a tie for 12th in Puerto Rico that jump-started his comeback.

"When I was playing under the medical it was hard not to think about the money, hard not to think about getting past it so I could just start to play golf," Byrd said. "You can say all day long that you're still trying to go win tournaments, but playing under a medical is hard. Since I've been past it, I feel like I've been able to focus on my game more and it's been easier to think about the process, and assessing where my game's at and less worrying about the pressure.

"I definitely felt at times like I wasn't going to accomplish my goals for making my money and I was struggling."

Byrd, an Anderson native, took several years to finally figure out Quail Hollow's old-school, tree-lined layout, and always admits he wants to play well at the course not far from his roots. Byrd missed his first five cuts here, and six of his first seven, but in the four years prior to last season, he posted ties for fifth and ninth and a solo second when he lost to former college teammate Lucas Glover in a playoff.

Still coming back from the wrist injury, he made last year's initial cut at the Wells Fargo Championship, but a Saturday 77 kept him from a secondary cut, resulting in a tie for 80th.

"It's a week I want to play really well," Byrd said. "So if I'm not playing well, maybe I get frustrated and try too hard and I get in the way of myself. I have played poorly here at times, but when I get it going here, I just love this course. I tend to read the greens really well and tend to make more putts here."

Byrd proved that with a 76-foot monster birdie at the difficult 18th (his ninth hole) Thursday to turn at 1 under. He drained another birdie from 22 feet on No. 3 and after a bogey at the sixth, birdied Nos. 7 and 9, the last via a 22-foot putt.

"You've just got to get the job done," Byrd said of feeling rejuvenated. "I'm 36 and still feel I have a lot of good years left and still feel like I'm improving even if the results haven't shown it. I'm just hanging in there and fighting to play well and we'll see where it takes me."

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