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Byrd starts on top

KAPALUA, Hawaii — A new PGA Tour season began with a familiar name atop the leader­board at the Tournament of Champions.

Defending champion Jonathan Byrd ran off six straight birdies early in his round Friday and opened with 6-under 67. That gave him a one-shot lead on a breezy, splendid afternoon.

Byrd hasn't won since his playoff victory a year ago in the season opener.

Steve Stricker, Webb Simpson, Martin Laird and Michael Bradley opened at 68. PGA champion Keegan Bradley, the only defending major champion in the field, shot 69.

Byrd said he rarely plays well when he feels confident. He's better off feeling uneasy about his game, and that's about how he felt when he woke up Friday.

His birdie streak came on the front nine.

"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."

The winners-only field has 27 players, the fewest since the event moved to Kapalua in 1999.

Phil Mickelson is among a dozen invitees who aren't competing. Mickelson, the reigning Houston Open champion, has not played in the event since 2001 despite qualifying for it every season except 2003.

"I understand the frustration that a lot of guys don't come here," Stricker said. "The schedule is so long and demanding at some times, especially toward the end of the year, that it's just hard to play them all."

Three players could not make the trip because of injuries: Frederik Jacobson, Dustin Johnson and Brandt Snedeker.

Lucas Glover had to withdraw because of sprained right knee ligaments sustained in a paddle board accident. He was paddleboarding Saturday in the Pacific Ocean when his foot caught the side of the board.

Tournament organizers decided this year to push the start of the 72-hole stroke-play event back a day, to Friday, so the finish would not bump up against the NFL playoff games on Sunday. The final round is Monday.

European: Louis Oosthuizen shot 11-under 62 to take a two-stroke lead after the second round of the Africa Open in East London, South Africa. The 2010 British Open winner had nine birdies and an eagle to lead Retief Goosen (68) and three others at 15-under 131.

Byrd starts on top 01/06/12 [Last modified: Friday, January 6, 2012 11:53pm]

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