Defending Champ Jonathan Byrd off to a Flying Start in Tournament of Champions

Carlos TorresContributor IJanuary 7, 2012

Byrd leads after Round 1 at six-under.
Byrd leads after Round 1 at six-under.Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Hyundai Tournament of Champions defending champ Jonathan Byrd finds himself after Round 1 just where he finish the tournament last year—on top of the leaderboard.

Byrd shot a six-under(-par) opening round and holds a one-shot lead over Webb Simpson, Steve Stricker, Michael Bradley and Martin Laird—who are tied for second place at five-under(-par).

The 2012 PGA Tour season was officially underway when Bryce Molder hit his opening drive today, leading a field that was reduced to only 27 players. According to The Tour Report, Lucas Glover had withdrawn from the tournament.

Glover injured his knee in a paddle-board accident over the weekend, and was not able to recover on time for opening day. That officially made this the smallest field to play the season-opening tournament.

But the star of the day was the defending champ. Byrd's performance today was highlighted by the six straight birdies he made starting on the third hole. That included making three straight birdie putts from over 26 feet.

But his streak stopped at the Par-5 ninth hole. After hitting his second shot to the right front green side bunker, his third was hit flat and short to the right rough. He was able to try a par-saving nine-feet putt, but he missed for his first bogey of the day.

He made the turn at five-under(-par)—the best front nine score of the day.

On the back nine, Byrd made a bogey on the Par-3 11th, dropping to four-under(-par)—and at the moment—to second place behind then-leader Michael Bradley.

But he recovered in the next hole making a seven-foot birdie and added another one on the Par-4 16th, when he made a 29-foot birdie-putt—his fourth birdie-putt of the day over 25 feet.

For Byrd, this is the fifth straight round in the 60s on this tournament, and it has earned him the lead after Round 1.

The early clubhouse leader was veteran Michael Bradley, who played a five-under(-par), bogey-free round.

Bradley's first birdie came on the Par-5 fifth hole. Bradley had a 34-foot eagle putt try, which he left just nine inches from the hole. He tapped-in for his first birdie of the day.

Later on the Par-3 eight hole, he hit his tee-shot to the right side of the green, 38-feet from the hole. He made the birdie-putt and made the turn at two-under(-par).

Bradley moved to three-under(-par) with a sensational 28-foot birdie putt on the Par-4 13th, and added back-to-back birdies on the 15th and 16th holes, getting to get to his five-under(-par) opening round score.

Stricker and Laird had the best back-nines of the day at four-under(-par). 

He was at two-under(-par) when he reached the Par-3 eight hole, where he made a double-bogey, dropping back to even-par. From there on, he made six birdies and one bogey (13th hole), including four of the last five holes.

Stricker even had a 10-foot (closest to the hole all day) eagle-putt try at the 18th hole, which had no shot as he missed to the left of the cup. He could've had a share of the lead at that moment had he made it.

Laird, on the other hand, started the day with two straight bogeys. He recovered quickly by making back-to-back birdies and made the turn at one-under(-par).

After dropping back to even-par with a bogey on the 11th hole, he birdied five of the final seven holes. The key to Laird on all his birdies was his approach shots that left him with putts under 10 feet, which he was able to make.

Simpson got to five-under(-par) thanks to a four-under(-par) front nine, highlighted by an eagle on the Par-5 fifth hole. He hit his approach second shot to within 11 feet of the hole, making the eagle putt.

He was at one-under(-par) at that moment.

He was able to reel-off back-to-back birdies on the next two holes, capped with a 27-foot birdie on the seventh hole. He added another birdie on the ninth hole to make the turn at four-under(-par).

Simpson was not able to replicate his front-nine success on the back nine. He added one more birdie on the 17th hole. He was in position to tie for the lead with a six-foot birdie try on 18th, but lipped the cup.

The only other bogey-free round belonged to PGA Championship winner and Rookie of the Year Keegan Bradley. He finished at four-under(-par) and in solo sixth place on the leaderboard. He also gave us the shot of the day, right before making the turn on the Par-5 ninth hole. His third shot from 54 yards away went over the hole, but spun back to the cup for the eagle.

K.J. Choi is in solo seventh place at three-under(-par). He was at two-over(-par) after four holes, but played flawless from there on. He started with back-to-back birdies on the next two holes, adding three more birdies on the ninth, 14th and 15th holes.

Nick Watney, who is T14 at even-par, dodged a bullet today. After finishing his round, Watney and his caddy Chad Reynolds were called in the TV trailer to review the action on the seventh hole green while he was reading the line with his caddy.

There was the possibility of a two-shot penalty, because it appeared that Reynolds had brushed the ground.

This looked like an NFL review: After revising the replay, due to inconclusive evidence the call on the course stood. Actually there was no call, therefore no penalty.

On the TV interview afterwards, Reynolds denied any wrongdoing, and Slugger White—PGA TOUR vice president of rules—said that all he saw was the shadow under Reynolds hand and decided there was nothing wrong and no penalty was assessed.

Another notable who did not had a good day today was FedEx Cup Champ Bill Haas. He played alongside Byrd and finished at even-par, and like Watney is T14.

Play resumes tomorrow at 10:35 am local time. From the PGA Tour page, the Tee Times and pairings for the second round are as follows:

Time Players
10:35 am Toms, David
10:45 am Baddeley, Aaron Steele, Brendan
10:55 am Vegas, Jhonattan Kirk, Chris
11:05 am Stallings, Scott Watson, Bubba
11:15 am Haas, Bill Frazar, Harrison
11:25 am Woodland, Gary Watney, Nick
11:35 am O'Hair, Sean Sabbatini, Rory
11:45 am Wilson, Mark Na, Kevin
11:55 am Wagner, Johnson Piercy, Scott
12:05 pm Points, D.A. Crane, Ben
12:15 pm Choi, K.J. Molder, Bryce
12:25 pm Simpson, Webb Bradley, Keegan
12:35 pm Laird, Martin Stricker, Steve
12:45 pm Byrd, Jonathan Bradley, Michael

Carlos Torres


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