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January 7 2012

4:27 AM

Front nine was ‘fun’ for Byrd

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.

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Byrd
The defending champ of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions quickly found his groove again at the Plantation Course. Thanks to his hot streak on the front nine, Byrd finished Friday's first round with a 6-under 67 that gives him a one-shot lead over a group of four players, including Steve Stricker.

"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.

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