Stricker among leaders at Champions

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, Last Updated: 11:55 PM ET

Kapalua, HI – Steve Stricker fired an eight-under 65 to grab a piece of the lead after three rounds of the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions.

Stricker was joined atop the leaderboard by first-round co-leader Jonathan Byrd (67) and second-round leader Robert Garrigus (69). The trio finished 54 holes at 18-under-par 201, which was good for a three-shot lead.

Carl Pettersson, who shared the first-round lead with Byrd, posted a two-under 71 and is alone in fourth at minus-15 on the Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort.

Matt Kuchar, who birdied seven of nine holes from the fourth to grab a piece of the lead, shot seven-under 66 and is alone in fifth at 14-under-par 205.

With four Americans in the top five, it is possible that an American can win this title for the first time since Jim Furyk in 2001.

After playing the first seven holes at even-par, Stricker caught fire. He poured in a birdie putt from nearly 20 feet out at eight and made it two in a row with a six-footer for birdie on No. 9.

Stricker parred the 10th, then flew up the leaderboard. He kicked off a run of five consecutive birdies with a 15-foot birdie putt on 11 and followed with a five-footer at 12 and an eight-foot birdie effort on the par-four 13th.

The 2008 runner-up tapped in a short birdie putt on 14 and finished his run of birdies with a four-footer at 15. That last birdie gave Stricker a share of the lead at minus-17.

Stricker, who shared 10th place at this event last year, parred the next two then rolled in a three-foot birdie try at 18 to get in at minus-18.

"With these wind conditions, the first two holes are the key to getting off to a good start because they play extremely difficult," Stricker said in a televised interview. "As I got into a roll on the back side, I kept wanting more and that's a good thing."

Byrd two-putted for birdie on the par-five fifth and made it two in a row with a six-foot birdie putt at six. He faltered to a bogey on the seventh to dip back to 13-under, where he was one behind Pettersson.

The 32-year-old Byrd sank a five-footer for birdie on No. 9 to join the lead at 14-under. Byrd took the lead at 10, where he converted a 10-foot birdie effort.

After Pettersson join him atop the leaderboard, Byrd again moved one ahead with a nine-footer at 12. He pushed his advantage to two as he ran home a 30- footer for birdie on 13.

Byrd parred the 14th and 15th and was caught by Stricker at 17-under. Byrd nearly holed his approach at 16, but settled for a kick-in birdie. He parred the last two holes.

"Some of the easier holes played harder and some of the harder holes played easier today," Byrd said. "I just kept plugging away and made a few putts."

Garrigus, who won the final event of the 2010 season to get into this field, stumbled badly at the start. He made a mess of the first en route to a double- bogey. Garrigus also dropped a shot on the second to slide to 11-under.

From there, he didn't make another mistake. Garrigus ran in an eight-footer for birdie at three and made it two in a row with at 12-foot birdie putt on four.

Garrigus was back in a share of the lead at that point, but fell back with four straight pars. An up-and-down birdie on the ninth again gave Garrigus a piece of the lead.

The 33-year-old birdied 14 and 15, both from inside seven feet, to get to 16- under. He was one back at that point, but the other leaders moved to 18-under ahead of him.

Garrigus, one of the biggest hitters on tour, hit a 384-yard drive on the downhill 18th. From 251 yards out, Garrigus ripped a five-iron onto the green. He was just inside 57 feet from the hole, but drained the long putt for eagle and a spot atop the leaderboard for the second straight round.

"Even though I made double on the first and bogeyed the second, I still felt like I was playing well," admitted Garrigus in a television interview. "I just told myself that if I could get it back to under-par, I'd be happy and I ended up getting it to four-under, so it feels real good."

U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell, the only reigning major winner playing this week, posted a five-under 68 to move into a share of sixth place at 12- under-par 207. He was joined there by Bill Haas, who carded a four-under 69.

NOTES: Two-time defending champion Geoff Ogilvy withdrew before teeing off on Thursday and Camilo Villegas was disqualified on Friday...The tournament is reserved for winners of PGA Tour events in 2010...Stricker's 65 was the low round of the day.


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