Honolulu: Zach Johnson made a strong start to his Sony Open title defence on Thursday when birdies on two of the last three holes lifted him into a share of the early lead in the opening round.
Johnson, who won last year`s title by two shots, fired a five-under-par 65 in blustery conditions at Waialae Country Club to set the tournament pace with fellow Americans Davis Love III, Ryan Palmer and PGA Tour rookie Troy Merritt.
Masters champion Angel Cabrera of Argentina eagled the par-five 18th on the way to an adventurous 66, which left him level with Swede Carl Pettersson and Americans Pat Perez and Jeff Quinney.
The straight-hitting Johnson was delighted with his round, having shrugged off an early bogey at the par-four fifth with a flawless run of six birdies in the last 11 holes.
"It was good," the 2007 Masters champion told reporters after covering the back nine in a sizzling four-under 31.
"Thursday is a day of not taking yourself out of it, keeping yourself in the golf tournament. Fortunately I got off to a good start."
"The key element here is certainly the wind and the wind today was severe at times, especially early on in the round but the beauty of this place is that it has a lot of character," added Johnson.
"Fairways are at a premium here and keeping the ball below the hole is a premium, and that`s just kind of how I grew up playing. I love it."
Tour veteran Love, bidding for his first victory since the 2008 Disney Classic, and Palmer each birdied their final holes to join Johnson at five under.
Merritt, who won last year`s PGA Tour qualifying tournament, was the surprise package at the top of the leaderboard, recording six birdies and a lone bogey in his debut appearance on the US circuit.
Twice winner Ernie Els and 2005 champion Vijay Singh, each making their first starts on the 2010 PGA Tour, were among the late starters.