Kapalua: Sweden’s Carl Pettersson and American Jonathan Byrd each fired seven-under par 66s to share the lead after the first round of the season-opening US PGA Tournament of Champions.
Pettersson on Thursday enjoyed a pair of runs with three birdies in a row, the third through fifth holes and again to begin the back nine to pull level with Byrd, who holed out a wedge from the 10th fairway.
American Ben Crane stood third on 67, one stroke ahead of countrymen Jim Furyk, Charley Hoffman and Bill Haas.
Australian Stuart Appleby, a three-time winner of the event, was on 69 along with Italy’s Francesco Molinari and Americans Anthony Kim, Robert Garrigus, Steve Stricker and Matt Kuchar.
Australian Geoff Ogilvy, the two-time defending champion, withdrew early Thursday after cutting his right index finger on coral during a Monday ocean swim and needing 12 stitches to seal the gash.
He became the first reigning champion in half a century not to participate in the event, where he could have matched US legend Gene Littler and Appleby as the only men to win the Tournament of Champions three years in a row.
Pettersson, who suffered his lone bogey at the par-4 sixth, was pleased with his effort in his fourth trip to the event, which he earned by winning last year’s Canadian Open.
“I played nice all day and made one stupid bogey, but that sort of happens in every round,” Pettersson said. “I just chunked my flop shot and didn’t get it up and down but that’s all right.
“I hit my irons great and made the putts and that’s a great combination to have.”
Calm winds at normally blustery Kapalua made life easier for the field of 33 in the 5.6 million-dollar event.
“In the wind the course is pretty tough,” Pettersson said. “If you played well and made the putts, you were going to shoot low today. It’s unusual to see Kapalua play this way. I was fortunate to be able to take advantage of it.”
No American has won this event since Furyk in 2001.
“Australians do well here because they have their season in their off-season. They go back to Australia and play a few events, so they are not quite as tournament rusty as the rest of us are,” Pettersson said.
“But things change. There’s ebb and flow with winning.”
Byrd would like to be the one to change the luck for US players.
“I felt pretty good out there,” he said. “I was a little nervous. Starting the year you never really know what to expect. You get excited to come here and have a little extra room off the tees and little bigger greens, kind of makes it a little easier.”
Byrd’s big 10th fairway shot was from 111 yards.
“We were trying to hit it a little past the hole into the wind, so it was about a 120 shot, and we just picked out one of the fans back there, and I hit it right on top of him, and it spun right in the hole,” Byrd said.
Byrd blamed the US drought at Kapalua on the scheduling.
“We kind get of comfortable around home at Christmas time and enjoying our families, and we’re very excited to come to this tournament, but maybe it’s our first tournament out of the gates and we’re probably not quite as sharp.”