By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
KAPALUA, Hawaii -- First tournament of the year. First round. A shaky tee shot at the opening hole. A nice two-putt to calm the nerves. A solid par on the next hole. Then ...
Six consecutive birdies.
Welcome to the 2012 season, Jonathan Byrd.
"The front nine was fun," Byrd said. "You're kind of never sure what you've got starting off the first round of the year."
Of his six straight birdies, the last three came on putts from longer than 26 feet. With Byrd headed to one of the easiest holes on the course, the par-5 ninth, and with a back nine playing easier than the front, it wasn't hard to imagine some spectacular possibilities.
In fact, Byrd had a similar feeling in the first round a year ago. He was 6 under through his first 10 holes, going out in 31 just like he did on Friday.
Byrd eventually finished that day with a 66, his low round of the week. But he remembers playing a little too cautiously on the back nine that day.
"It's hard not to get ahead of yourself a little bit," he said.
On Friday, the momentum stopped at nine when he leaked a driver off the deck to the right and struggled out of the greenside bunker. He called the bogey at the ninth "just awful."
"It kind of takes the wind out of your sails when you do that," he noted.
He dropped another shot at the par-3 11th, but bounced back with a birdie and added another one at the 16th. That last birdie is the difference between him and the four players -- Stricker, Webb Simpson, Michael Bradley and Martin Laird -- immediately behind him on the leaderboard.
But the lead may not be as important as the comfort level Byrd feels at Kapalua.
"I feel like I know how to play it," he said.
The scores certainly reflect that.
KAPALUA, Hawaii – En route to shooting a 6-under 67 that gives him the first-round lead by one shot, Jonathan Byrd made three long birdie putts during a six-hole stretch in which he posted six consecutive birdies.
Here’s the highlight of each of those birdies.
Jonathan Byrd makes a birdie putt of 29 feet, 1 inch.
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
KAPALUA, Hawaii -- Defending a title on the PGA TOUR is not impossible, of course, but certainly extremely difficult. In 42 starts by defending champs in 2011, just one successfully defended his title -- Steve Stricker at the John Deere Classic. In fact, that was Stricker's third consecutive win at that event.
"I don't think it's easy to defend any tournament," said Jonathan Byrd, who gets the first crack at defending a title in 2012 when he tees it up this week at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
But if you're going to pick a tournament to defend, the season opener at the Plantation Course is mathematically the easiest one on TOUR. This week, Byrd will have to outplay just 27 other players to win here for the second straight year. Those are better odds than at any other event on TOUR this year.
"It's a lot easier to beat 28 guys (the size of the field) than it is to beat 144 or 156," Byrd said with a smile. "I mean, my son could figure that out, and he's five."
Since 2000, the Hyundai Tournament of Champions defending champ has won three times. That includes Stuart Appleby in 2005 and 2006 (after his first win in 2004) and Geoff Ogilvy in 2010 (after his first win in 2009). Ogilvy did not get to play last year after suffering a cut on his right index finger prior to the first round.
Byrd would love to join that group. Winning the season opener a year ago was a big boost for him last year, took the pressure off and allowed him "a little more freedom," he said.
"It really doesn't get much better than that," Byrd said. "Going to Sony (next week) and you've already won a tournament, when 75 percent of the TOUR or 85 percent of the TOUR hasn't even played yet."
But Byrd, who beat Robert Garrigus in a playoff last year, isn't going to put undue pressure on himself to repeat. He wants to keep things simple.
"I'm not thinking about winning," he said. "I'm thinking about taking care of the things I need to take care of, and hopefully that gets me in contention with nine holes to go."
A year ago, Jonathan Byrd led the field at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in five different statistical categories -- including scrambling and putting from inside 10 feet. That marked the third time in the last six years the eventual champ has topped both of those stats.
But Kapalua's wide, cascading fairways are awfully inviting to the big hitters, and with nine of the top 20 in driving distance among the 28 players competing this week, fans of the long ball should definitely be satisfied. All nine averaged 300 yards or better last year.
There have been 277 drives of 400 yards or more on the PGA TOUR in the last nine years -- and more than half, 157, to be exact, have been struck on the Plantation Course. The most generous hole? The downhill, par-5 18th at Kapalua, which was yielded 76.
Interestingly, it's the veteran Ernie Els who owns the mark for the most 400-yard drives with 10 over the last nine years. And all but one have come at the Plantation Course.
|Courses with the most 400-yard drives since 2003||Number|
|Plantation Course at Kapalua (Hyundai Tournament of Champions)||157|
|La Cantera Golf Club (Valero Texas Open)||41|
|Firestone Country Club’s South Course (Bridgestone Invitational)||27|
|Montreaux Golf & Country Club (Reno-Tahoe Open)||14|
|Holes with the most 400-yard drives since 2003||Number|
|No. 18 at the Plantation Course at Kapalua||76|
|No. 12 at the Plantation Course at Kapalua||40|
|No. 6 at the Plantation Course at Kapalua||28|
|No. 11 at La Cantera Golf Club||23|
|No. 16 at Firestone Country Club’s South Course||23|
|No. 1 at La Cantera Golf Club||12|
|No. 17 at the Plantation Course at Kapalua||8|
|No. 7 at the Plantation Course at Kapalua||5|
Jonathan Byrd is coming off a career year where he won the Hyundai Tournament of Champions -- which he called his "biggest victory on TOUR up to date" -- as well as eclipsed his previous best finishes in the FedExCup and on the money list.
That said, Byrd acknowledges that he probably had more confidence at this juncture last year than he does as he contemplates the new year. Winning a playoff with a walk-off ace in the final event of the 2010 season will do that for a guy.
"I think last year I really had a mindset of, hey, everything
is good," Byrd said. "I finished the year well. Let's not change
anything. Let's just try to keep it really simple and just kind of
take it into next year. That was my mindset. I feel like I probably
had a little bit more confidence than I do now, to be honest,
'cause the last tournament you played in you made putts under
pressure, you did those things.
"For me, my last tournament (in 2011) was in China. It was a solid week. I finished in 23rd place. But ... I haven't won since the first tournament of the season. There's maybe a little bit more of a question mark in my head of kind of where my game is at at the moment.
“But I’m going to try to learn from last year."
So Byrd doesn't plan any big changes in the weeks leading up to his title defense at Kapalua Jan. 6-9. After all, he won once, bringing his career total to five, lost another in a playoff, finished 27th in the FedExCup and earned more than $2.9 million last year. But Byrd does want to improve on his short game and scrambling, as well as in par-3 performance where he ranked 149th on TOUR.
"One of the best things I've done with my team and for my game is to meet with a group of four or five guys who are on my team, go through stats, talk to my caddie a lot, because he watched me play the most, try to learn from the season,” Byrd said. “Instead of working on 67 things you feel you need to work on, just look at the top three things you really need to work on to get better, spend most of your time doing that."
Byrd would also like to improve his play in the majors. He missed the cut in all four last year but will have another chance in golf's crown jewels in 2012 thanks to his finish in the FedExCup. Byrd plans to approach the majors "like any other week," but the Masters will be a different story -- his wife is scheduled to deliver their second child by a scheduled C-section on the Friday before he heads to Augusta National.
"That should be a good distraction," Byrd said.
The former Clemson standout said he's content with his 2011 campaign, although "I haven't had a season on TOUR yet where I didn't feel like I didn't leave something on the table," he acknowledged.
"I could win the first six tournaments I think and still feel like I left something on the table at the end of the year. I think that's just kind of human nature you want more, you want more, you always think you can do better."
Five-time PGA TOUR winner Jonathan Byrd will take questions from fans on the PGA TOUR's Facebook page on Tuesday, Dec. 6 at 3:15 p.m. ET.
The 2012 PGA TOUR season is just around the corner and Byrd hopes to start the same way he began the 2011 season -- with a victory at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
Join Byrd on Facebook to get his thoughts on defending his title at the season-opening event in Hawaii and to ask any other questions you might have.
The charities of four PGA TOUR players received a total of $60,000 on Tuesday thanks to a program funded by DePuy Mitek, the Official Mobile Health and Fitness Provider of the PGA TOUR and Champions Tour.
Jim Furyk, Stewart Cink and Jonathan Byrd were on hand to accept the donations from the ORTHOVISC® PGA TOUR Player Charity Program, where thousands of fans voted for their favorite participating players.
John Daly, who is playing in Portugal this week, received the most votes so his charity, the Boys and Girls Club of River Valley Arkansas, will receive $25,000. Furyk earned $15,000 for the Jim and Tabitha Furyk Foundation while Cink's charity, The Healing Place, and Byrd's foundation, the Jim Byrd Memorial, each receive $10,000.
The Jim and Tabitha Foundation raises charity dollars and
awareness for groups that provide services such as hospice care,
hospital and nursing services, counseling, mentoring and food and
shelter services to those children needing it the most.
Cink's charity, The Healing Place, helps provide education and support programs for grieving children, adolescents and their families or guardians. Byrd created The Jim Byrd Memorial to honor his late father and raise money for local charities.
Fans were able to view information about a player's charity at a kiosk at nine PGA TOUR events and send them a personal “shout out” or text message. DePuy Mitek sponsors the state-of-the-art fitness trailers at TOUR events in an effort to educate golfers and fans alike on the importance of keeping their knees healthy and free of pain.
By John Schwarb, PGATOUR.COM
In a wide-ranging pre-tournament interview Tuesday at the Frys.com Open more notable for his comments on Tiger Woods, Rocco Mediate also had some perspective on the long putter.
Some 20 years before today’s PGA TOUR long putter craze, there was a young Mediate, not with the yips exactly but just not putting as well as he wanted to.
“I remember Jim Ferree, who was one of my first teachers actually. I was at Long Cove in Hilton Head in 1990 … he goes, you gotta try this thing. I said all right, and I tried it. And I came out in '91 with it, and I know (Bruce) Lietzke used it then, but then I won and I had like six straight Top 10s or five straight Top 10s [actually, four in five weeks] and I won Doral.
“And I was the antichrist then in the putting world. And now look at it now. Yeah, I was the antichrist. People, I mean trust me, I had a lot of interesting comments about the putter, as you probably remember. So now, look at it now.”
Now, Mediate is going for what he calls a “triple crown” of putting mastery. He has won with a conventional-length putter (including last year’s Frys.com Open) and a long putter, and now he’s going to try to win with a belly putter. “Unprecedented,” he said.
BYRD’S DRIVER: Jonathan Byrd’s TaylorMade SuperFast 2.0 driver was a casualty of the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup – it broke at the BMW Championship. He experimented to find a new one, and ended up putting an R11 in play at the JT Shriners.
NEW STUFF: Cleveland Golf debuted its 588 forged clubs in Las Vegas, with Jeff Overton becoming the first Cleveland staffer to use the 588 MB model. Seventeen new 588 forged wedges were in play (Woody Austin had four) and three new fairway wood “Mashies” were also used.
CALI CAMERONS: Scotty Cameron is releasing a refined look to its California putter line, featuring improved “visual flow.”
“My main objective for the new California designs was to take the visual flow to a new level,” Cameron said.
More than 30 refinements were made, including deeper milling in the putter’s face. That yields a softer sound at impact, said to be preferred by many good putters.
The model line is slightly changed, with the Monterey 1.5 model replacing the Coronado. The others – Del Mar, Fastback, Monterey and Sonoma – are mainstays in the California line.
BECK’S AID: Chip Beck, the second man to shoot 59 in a PGA TOUR event, has developed a grip training aid with his wife, Karen. Called “Grip Guides,” it features a heat-activated surface that gives feedback to whether or not you’re gripping the club correctly.
ROUGH TRIP: In case you missed it last week, Lee Janzen’s clubs took a beating on the way to Las Vegas. Wished we could have seen the two-time U.S. Open champion’s face when an airline representative suggested that he could get a rental set.