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NORTHERN TRUST OPEN NOTEBOOK

Conservative play pays off for Jonathan Byrd

Byrd shoots a three-under-par 68 in the first round of the Northern Trust Open and is tied for fourth place, two shots behind leader Phil Mickelson.

February 16, 2012|By Diane Pucin
  • Jonathan Byrd hits his tee shot at No. 12 on Thursday during the first round of the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club.
Jonathan Byrd hits his tee shot at No. 12 on Thursday during the first round… (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images )

Jonathan Byrd shot a three-under par 68 on Thursday at the Northern Trust Open. He is tied for fourth place, two shots behind leader Phil Mickelson, which isn't totally remarkable except that Byrd went off early Thursday at Riviera Country Club when it was really, really windy.

Byrd has made the cut in this tournament only twice in seven previous starts. He finished tied for 58th in 2005 and tied for 37th in 2010, and when he opened his eyes Thursday morning, Byrd wasn't feeling as if he'd be on the leaderboard.

"We rented a house this week and we're staying on a bluff about five miles away," he said. "I got out of bed this morning and walked outside and I was pretty anxious about playing this golf course today because it was howling on top of that bluff."

Maybe the fear helped because Byrd said he decided to go out and be careful.

"My approach was to just kind of keep it in play and have a pretty conservative game plan," Byrd said.

That game plan gave Byrd five birdies, two bogeys and an assessment that keeping the game simple helped.

"I kept it in play off the tee," said Byrd, who has five career PGA Tour victories, including one last year. And the weather that Byrd feared when he heard those howling sounds didn't turn out so badly.

"Once I got out there, I started thinking, 'Hey, the holes you've got to kind of hold on … 7, 8, 9, and then 17 and 18 … that's only five holes,'" he said.

"The rest of the course was essentially playing downwind.

"I tried to come out with a conservative game plan and I made some good, aggressive swings and ended up with a 20-footer for an eagle on No. 1 [he settled for birdie], then a good shot into No. 2 [he parred] and on No. 3 I stiffed it for birdie. I just kind of kept hitting good iron shots so I stayed aggressive."

Wind effects

When play was stopped Thursday because of darkness, 23 players were under par. Last year there were 39 players below par after the first round; in 2010 there were 54 and in 2009, 78 players broke par in the first round.

Feeling better

J.B. Holmes, who had brain surgery in September, was briefly the leader of the tournament when he was five under par.

He did have two bogeys and a double bogey on three of his last six holes but with a birdie three on his final hole, No. 9, Holmes was happy with his four-under 67, which has him tied for second, a shot behind Mickelson.

"It feels great to put in a good round right off the bat," said Holmes, who had a malformation in his brain that caused him balance issues and symptoms of vertigo. He said he felt his swing and confidence are both returning.

He said the speed of his swing, especially, has been improving. The surgery caused a loss of speed because, he said, he couldn't get enough rotation in his neck.

"I feel like each week my swing has definitely gotten a little bit better," Holmes said.

diane.pucin@latimes.com

twitter.com/mepucin

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