Champions Tournament: Byrd leads but Laird well placed

Jonathan Byrd
Byrd is a five-time winner on the Tour but his last success was a year ago

Defending champion Jonathan Byrd hit six consecutive birdies to take the first-round lead with a six-under par 67 in the season-opening Tournament of Champions in Hawaii.

The American hit eight birdies in total to take a one-shot lead over a group including Scotland's Martin Laird.

Laird started with two bogeys in the first three holes but finished with five birdies in his last seven holes.

The Scot told ESPN: "I'm very pleased with the way I battled back."

Laird, who is joined on 68 by United States golfers Steve Stricker, Webb Simpson and Michael Bradley, added: "I've been playing great the last few days so I wasn't too worried after three holes, there's still a long to go.

"I started landing in the right spots on the back nine and finally made some putts."

The tournament at the par-73 Plantation Course in Kapalua, open only to last season's title winners, is designed to start the season in style but three of the four reigning Major champions - Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland and Charl Schwartzel of South Africa - opted to bypass the $5.6 million event.

The field was further reduced to 27 when former US Open champion Lucas Glover withdrew at the last moment with a sprained knee.

Byrd, whose run of birdies began at the third, was delighted with his impressive start.

"The front nine was fun. You're never sure what you've got starting off the first round of the year," said Byrd, who has not won a tournament since his play-off victory here last year.

Stricker finished strongly, overcoming a double-bogey at the par-three eighth to close with birdies at four of his last five holes.

Michael Bradley joined the group with a blemish-free round that included five birdies, while Simpson's five-under round included an eagle at the par-five fifth.

Keegan Bradley also hit an eagle at the par-five ninth, where he holed out from short of the green, to finish four-under on 69.