KAPALUA - Jonathan Byrd's arrival on Maui opened the eyes of his 5-year-old son.
Walking through Kahului Airport, Jackson Byrd saw a picture of his father celebrating a moment last year on his way to a win in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at the Kapalua Plantation Course.
"When we finally got here to Maui, seeing the signage up and my son looking at the picture of me pumping my fist and he looked up and he said, 'Dad, you must be famous,' " the elder Byrd said during his press conference Wednesday. "I said, 'At least for this week I am.' But he's seen my picture all over the place - around the hotel and golf course and everywhere, so that's been fun."
Defending champion Jonathan Byrd works on his putting Wednesday afternoon at the Kapalua Plantation Course’s practice green. The Hyundai Tournament of Champions starts Friday.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Byrd, 33, moved up from 121st in the world rankings to 58th with his playoff win over Robert Garrigus last season here and he is currently 55th. The victory was his fifth in his 11-year tour career.
He knows defending when the tournament starts on Friday will not be easy, even with a 28-player field that is missing six top-10 players who were eligible to be here after winning tour events last year.
"I don't think it is easy to defend any tournament," he said.
A win this week would put Byrd with Stuart Appleby (2004-06) and Geoff Ogilvy (2009-10) as players who have successfully defended this title on the Plantation Course, the host venue for the PGA Tour season opener since 1999.
"The ability to be able to defend a tournament and win multiple times, even if it's a course you always play well, it's difficult," he said. "It's mentally difficult because you have expectations and it's just kind of managing all that."
Byrd has a mixed record here in four appearances - before his win at 24-under 268, he tied for sixth at 271 in 2003, tied for 13th at 280 in 2005 and tied for 15th at 282 in 2008. His scoring average of 68.81 here, however, is the best of anyone with eight or more rounds.
"I enjoy it," Byrd said. "It's the first tournament of the year, it's got wide fairways. That's great because everybody has got a little rust in their games and we're not quite tournament-ready, most of us, so you need a little room for error."
Byrd knows he must go low to win. His 24-under par here last season tied Ogilvy's 2009 run for the third-best total on the Plantation, behind Ernie Els' tour-record 31-under in 2003 and David Duval's 26-under in 1999.
"In order to play well here you've got to score well and you've got to have good touch around the greens," he said. "Because with the wind and the slope and everything, conditions change pretty quick, so you have to be able to adapt."
Byrd went 66-68-67-67 to match Garrigus last season in regulation and thinks it will take that kind of consistency to be near the top again. With the no-cut format and $5.6 million in the purse, no one will go home without a nice paycheck.
"It's a good opportunity," Byrd said. "You're going to get four rounds in, you know you're going to knock some rust off, and, yes, I'm going to have a great week this week, but I'm going 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. Hopefully that gets me in contention with nine holes to go."
Winds have been inconsistent so far this week, but Byrd doesn't mind.
"I enjoy that part of it," he said. "That helps me not get too mechanical when it's that way. You've got to adjust to the wind and the lies and I just think that's fun."
The tournament will start on a Friday and end on a Monday for the first time. It will be one of two tour events to end on a Monday this season, the other being the Deutsche Bank Championship that traditionally ends on Labor Day.
The move is to avoid going head-to-head on television with the NFL playoffs. It will also be a television lead-in to the BCS National Championship Game between LSU and Alabama on Monday.
"I think it's cool," Byrd said. "I mean, we're always trying to look for the best product and get the most viewership. I think - when I talk to my friends at home, they love the tournament because they watch it at night and what better way to finish the golf tournament right before that football game? I think it's a win-win for everybody."
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org