Byrd, Pettersson take early Kapalua lead
KAPALUA, Hawaii – Jonathan Byrd and Carl Pettersson didn’t miss a beat in the PGA Tour opener Thursday, both enjoying the views and surprisingly calm conditions in the Tournament of Champions to share the lead at 7-under 66.
That wasn’t the case for others.
Kapalua was missing its two-time defending champion when Geoff Ogilvy had to withdraw with 12 stitches in his right finger, making him the first defending champ in 50 years to miss the winners-only event.
Stuart Appleby was missing his putter. It wasn’t in the bag when he showed up Thursday morning, and he sent caddie Scott Sajtinac to a nearby golf shop to get the closest he could find. With the price tag still glued to the shaft, Appleby opened with a 69.
Jim Furyk was missing a playing partner when Ogilvy withdrew, so he brought along Scott Carroll as a marker. The popular head pro at Kapalua got the loudest ovation of anyone on the first tee.
Above all, the Plantation Course was missing its notorious wind, which allowed for a gentle start to the PGA Tour season.
“It’s quite an adjustment going out there with no wind,” Byrd said.
It was Byrd’s first tournament since he qualified for the Tournament of Champions by winning in Las Vegas with the best finish of the year, a hole-in-one in a three-man playoff. After making five birdies on the front nine, Byrd holed out another shot. This was only a wedge from 111 yards that caught the grain perfectly and rolled sideways about 4 feet and into the cup.
If the only the rest of the day could have gone as well.
“From there on, got a little shaky,” Byrd said. “I didn’t play great for about a three- or four-hole stretch.”
Ben Crane was a stroke behind the leaders. He played bogey-free in the calm, overcast conditions with the sun trying to break through the clouds but never quite succeeding.
Furyk, one of only three players to have won at Kapalua still in the field, also got off to a quick start before he stalled and had to settle for a 5-under 68, leaving him tied with Bill Haas and Charley Hoffman.
Joining Appleby in the group at 69 was Anthony Kim, determined to plot his way through each round at each tournament, and doing a pretty good job of it except for the par-3 eighth. He chose a 4-iron, then changed his shot at the top of his swing and pulled it into the high weeds to take a double bogey.
“All of a sudden, I decided to try to make birdie – from 215 yards away,” Kim said. “Mental error. I committed to every shot I hit today except for that one.”
Bubba Watson hit the longest tee shot on the 18th during a long drive competition Wednesday, and his driver again was the key club on the finishing hole Thursday – only this one was a driver off the fairway, setting up a 10-foot eagle putt for a 70.
The conditions were so serene that a dozen players shot in the 60s, and only two players failed to break par. One of them was Rocco Mediate, who made the turn in 41 and shot 79. The other was Justin Rose at 75.
Ernie Els, who set the tournament record in 2003 with a 31-under 261, opened with back-to-back bogeys and rallied to get back into the game until a three-putt bogey on the final hole for a 1-under 72.
Pettersson qualified by winning the Canadian Open, but he wasn’t satisfied with the way his year ended. Instead of shutting it down when he returned from the HSBC Champions in China, he went to work. Pettersson spent the last two months playing golf just about every day, whether that meant practicing for one hour or five hours, playing with buddies in North Carolina or taking golf trips to Florida.
“Probably worked harder on my game this offseason than I’ve done any other offseason,” he said.
The course can play a little longer without wind. Pettersson usually hits a 6-iron into the 554-yard 17th hole, which is downhill with the trade wind typical helping. He had to hammer a hybrid Thursday, an example of how different Kapalua felt.
Even so, not man were begging for the wind to return.
“I’ve been here since Sunday, and every day it has blown a little bit different direction, which messes with you a little bit,” Haas said. “But I’m happy. I hope it stays like this all week.”
Appleby is going to stick with his new putter.
He’s not sure what happened to the old one, but his instructions to Sajtinac were simple.
“I told him to get me an Odyssey putter,” Appleby said, the brand he normally uses. “If you get me an Odyssey putter, I’ll know what to do with it.”
So what happens if he finds his old putter after opening with a 69?
“That’s how you really torment a golfer,” Appleby said.