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DeLaet produces early-bird special

HONOLULU - Graham DeLaet has never been happier to be on the PGA Tour, and it showed yesterday in the Sony Open.

One year after back surgery that made him wonder if he could ever play golf again, DeLaet chipped in for eagle and twice holed 35-foot birdie putts for a 7-under 63 that gave the Canadian a two-shot lead among the early starters.

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Carl Pettersson and former Sony Open champion K.J. Choi were among those at 65, while Webb Simpson was in the group at 66.

PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley was among a large group at 67.

“I’m just so excited to be back out,’’ DeLaet said. “I had a good season my rookie campaign, and then it was all basically just taken away. And I realize now how fortunate we are to be playing golf for a living. My whole attitude is definitely better.’’

His game looked to be in pretty good shape, too.

Yesterday was a gentle start of the season in the first full-field tournament of the year on the tour, with the ocean breeze barely strong enough to move fronds on the palm trees that line the fairways. Just under half of those with early tee times broke par.

Kapalua winner Steve Stricker was among those who played in the afternoon.

DeLaet surged to the top of the leaderboard when he chipped in from just short of the green on the par-5 ninth, then holed a 35-foot birdie putt on the 10th and hit his approach to 6 feet on the 12th for another birdie. He took the outright lead with birdies on the last two holes, getting up-and-down from just short of the green on the par-5 18th.

The most sterling debut belonged to Harris English, the Georgia star playing in his first tour event. English won a Nationwide Tour event as an amateur, then barely broke a sweat in the final two stages of Q-school to get his card. And in his first round, he was atop the leaderboard at 6 under.

But he went long on the 14th green to make bogey, and then was too delicate with a bunker shot on the 15th and left it in the sand, leading to a double bogey. With a birdie on the final hole, he settled for a 67, still not a bad start.

Stephen Ames had one of the better turnarounds. He has been in Hawaii for his annual winter vacation. But when he got to Waialae, he was 3 over through eight holes. He birdied six of the next nine and posted a 67.

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