KAPALUA, Maui » As the PGA Tour surfed into its 2011 season yesterday at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, Kapalua’s Plantation Course uncharacteristically offered players a soft landing.
The vaunted breezes barely blew and morning rain made the huge greens an even more inviting target. The field of 33 of last year’s winners — two-time defending champion Geoff Ogilvy did not start because of a cut on his finger — picked the Plantation apart.
Justin Rose (75) and 48-year-old Rocco Mediate (79) were the only players over par. The average score on the tour’s only par-73 layout was 70.515.
Jonathan Byrd and Carl Pettersson were much better than average, opening with 7-under-par 66s to share the lead.
Kapalua Plantation Course,
Byrd buried six birdie putts but missed a five-footer on the final hole that would have left him alone in first. He holed out for eagle from 111 yards on the 10th.
"We picked out one of the fans back there and I hit it right on top of him," said Byrd, who is here because he aced the fourth playoff hole last year in Las Vegas. "It spun right in the hole."
Pettersson had eight birdies, six with a wedge in his hand, but bogeyed the sixth from 58 yards out. He is here for the fourth time because he chased down Hawaii’s Dean Wilson to win the 2010 RBC Canadian Open.
Pettersson hardly recognized Kapalua yesterday, and for that he was thankful.
"I actually think it’s a very difficult golf course when the wind is blowing," he said. "It’s tough to make the putts. When you’re putting with the wind blowing you have to play the break and the wind. It’s a totally different animal today versus it blowing 25 mph."
The Swede was happy he took advantage. "I know it’s not going to be calm the rest of the week," he said. "If I was a betting man I’d say it’s going to blow one of the days. Or two or three."
Ben Crane (67) avoided bogeys and is alone in third. Jim Furyk, Bill Haas and Charley Hoffman are another shot back.
Furyk, the 2010 Player of the Year, sank a five-foot birdie putt on the final hole.
Haas had an eagle on the 14th, sinking his second shot from 70 feet out.
Hoffman hit "in the hazard by a million yards" on the eighth hole and took double-bogey, then played the last 10 holes in 5-under. He was relieved Kapalua was in such a generous mood, particularly after an offseason that revolved around his 8 1/2 -week-old daughter.
"I hit some sloppy shots," he said. "Fortunately enough, the fairways and the landing areas were big enough where it was still in play."
Steve Stricker failed to join the trio at 68 when he three-putted the final hole. He was second here in 2008, but there is evidence this is only a warmup for next week’s Sony Open in Hawaii. Stricker has seven top-15 finishes in 11 starts at Waialae Country Club, including a third last year and in 1996 — when Furyk won.
Stricker is in a six-way tie for seventh along with Stuart Appleby.