HONOLULU — Graham DeLaet has never been happier to be on the PGA Tour, and it showed Thursday in the Sony Open.
One year after back surgery that made him wonder if he could ever play golf again, DeLaet chipped in for eagle and twice holed 35-foot birdie putts for 7-under 63 that gave the Canadian a two-shot lead.
Carl Pettersson and former Sony Open champion K.J. Choi were among those at 65, while Kapalua winner Steve Stricker, Webb Simpson and Bud Cauley were among those at 66.
"I'm just so excited to be back out," DeLaet said. "I had a good season my rookie campaign, and then it was all basically just taken away. And I realize now how fortunate we are to be playing golf for a living. My whole attitude is definitely better."
For Stricker, a minor adjustment was in order.
He is trying to become the first player since Ernie Els in 2003 to sweep the Hawaii events, and Stricker was noticeably tired Wednesday during the pro-am, and parts of the opening round.
Part of that was a Monday finish on Maui. He took the day off Tuesday, and he couldn't take three steps Wednesday without dozens of players congratulating him.
"A nice problem to have," Stricker said.
He picked up four birdies on the back nine, though, and was right in the hunt.
It was a gentle start in the first full-field tournament of the year. Sixty-three in the 144-man field broke par, including Oahu native Tadd Fujikawa.
DeLaet surged to the top of the leaderboard when he chipped in from just short of the green on the par-5 ninth, then holed a 35-foot birdie putt on the 10th and hit his approach to 6 feet on the 12th for another birdie. He took the outright lead with birdies on the last two holes.