The US’ Jonathan Byrd made a sizzling start to his title defense at the Tournament of Champions, defying breezy conditions to charge a shot clear in Friday’s opening round.
The 33-year-old used a red-hot putter to rattle in six successive birdies on the front nine on the way to a superb six-under 67 in dazzling sunshine at the picturesque Kapalua Resort in Maui, Hawaii.
That left Byrd a stroke in front of fellow Americans Steve Stricker, Webb Simpson and Michael Bradley, plus Britain’s Martin Laird, in the PGA Tour’s season-opening event.
PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley carded a 69, while South Korean K.J. Choi, renowned for his ability to play well in the wind, opened with a 70 in an elite field of 27.
Byrd, who won last year’s title in a playoff with compatriot Robert Garrigus, holed monster birdie putts from 28, 26 and 30 feet at the sixth, seventh and eighth to reach the turn in five-under 31.
Although he bogeyed the par-three 11th, he picked up further shots at the 12th and 16th to grab the lead in the limited-field tournament which brings together PGA Tour winners from the previous season.
“I feel like I know how to play this course,” Byrd said after recording eight birdies and two bogeys in his first competitive round of the year.
The US’ world No. 6 Stricker, the highest-ranked player in the field, was just one under after 13 holes, before surging up the leaderboard with four birdies in the last five holes.
“To finish with four birdies out of the last five holes definitely brings some momentum into tomorrow [today],” Stricker said with a smile.
Michael Bradley, who booked his place at Kapalua by winning last year’s Puerto Rico Open, also produced a late surge with three birdies in the last six holes.
“I drove it decent, hit some good iron shots and made some putts,” he said. “I didn’t do anything stupid.
Former US Open champion Lucas Glover pulled out before the start of the opening round after spraining a ligament in his right knee while paddleboarding over the weekend.
Glover’s withdrawal reduced the field to 27, the smallest since the event moved to Kapalua in 1999.