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January 4 2012

9:59 PM

Defending is ‘easier’ at Hyundai TOC

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.

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Byrd
In the 41 other starts, just four defending champs finished in the top 10 of their respective events. Meanwhile, nine missed the cut and two had to withdraw. And those totals don't include the three champs who did not even get to tee it up.

"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."

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