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Jonathan Byrd set for title defence
January 5, 2012

Jonathan Byrd will defend a PGA Tour title for a fourth time at this week’s season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Hawaii, but this one feels extra special for the American.

His 2011 victory on the picturesque island of Maui ended a frustrating habit of winning fairly late in the U.S. season and it has made him especially famous in the eyes of his five-year-old son Jackson.

“It’s just a good feeling,” Byrd told reporters at the Kapalua Resort on Wednesday while preparing for Friday’s opening round in the elite $5.6 million event.

“Ever since … we finally got here to Maui, seeing the signage up and my son looking at the picture of me pumping my fist. He looked at me and he said, ‘Dad, I think you’re famous.’ I said, ‘At least for this week I am.’

“He’s seen my picture all over the place, around the hotel, the golf course, so that’s been fun. It doesn’t happen that much for most of us mortals so you want to enjoy it.”

Byrd won last year’s title by beating fellow American Robert Garrigus in a playoff, an unprecedented fast start to a PGA Tour season which he treasured.

“I’ve always won kind of towards the end of the season, so it was stressful,” five-times PGA Tour champion Byrd recalled.

“Winning the first tournament of the year, it’s like, ‘wow.’ It really doesn’t get much better than that, going to (the) Sony (Open) and you’ve already won a tournament when 75 percent of the tour hasn’t even played yet.”

Only 28 players are competing this week in the event that brings together winners from the previous season and Byrd cherishes the opportunity to get a jump-start on his rivals before next week’s Sony Open, the first full-field tournament of the year.

“It’s a lot easier to beat 28 guys than it is to beat 144 or 156,” he smiled. “The worst you’re going to do is finish 28th, so you’ve got a top-30 finish at the start of the year.

“I’m trying to have a great week this week but I’m trying to keep it simple. I’m not thinking about winning, I’m thinking about taking care of the things I need to take care of, and hopefully that gets me in contention with nine holes to go.”

Several leading players who triumphed on the 2011 PGA Tour have opted not to compete this week for varied reasons ranging from injury and family births to extending their ‘off-season’.

Among the notable absentees are British world number one Luke Donald, Masters champion Charl Schwartzel of South Africa and U.S. Open winner Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland.

American world number six Steve Stricker and 10th-ranked compatriot Webb Simpson head this week’s field.

Keegan Bradley, who won his maiden major title at last year’s PGA Championship, is among 12 players making their debuts this week at the Kapalua Resort.

Like every first-time visitor to the par-73 Plantation Course, Bradley has delighted in the spectacular ocean views but was stunned by the layout’s elevation changes of 160 feet.

“I knew it was going to be hilly and rolling, but this is a lot more intense than I thought it was going to be,” the American said. “You’ve got to really learn the breaks in the fairways. You’ve got to hit a lot of shots off some funky lies and downhill lies.

“We’re lucky they give us (golf) carts so we can go out there and fly around, because I wouldn’t want to be a spectator on this course.”

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