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After two bad trips to Hawaii, Walker leads

Jimmy Walker
Jonathan Ferrey/WireImage.com
Jimmy Walker shot a first round 65.

HONOLULU (AP) — Jimmy Walker would love to have a fairy-tale finish at the Sony Open. Given the bad memories from this place, he was thrilled Thursday with the first chapter.

Walker hit 7-iron to 12 feet below the flag on the par-5 ninth to finish with an eagle for a 5-under 65, giving him a one-shot lead among the early starters in surprisingly calm conditions at Waialae Country Club.

Chad Campbell and Rory Sabbatini, who made their '08 debut last week at the winners-only Mercedes-Benz Championship, were among a half-dozen players at 66.

Tadd Fujikawa, meanwhile, was headed for a short week.

One year after he became the youngest player (16) in 50 years to make the cut on the PGA Tour, Fujikawa never recovered from a double bogey on the second hole. He didn't make birdie until No. 12 and wound up with a 74, leaving him a long shot to earn his first paycheck since turning pro last summer. This is eighth event as a pro.

"I had a rough day," Fujikawa said. "I've got to shoot a good round tomorrow to make the cut. I think I can do it. Anything is possible."

Golf Channel began its broadcast without anchor Kelly Tilghman, serving a two-week suspension for saying with a laugh last week that the best way young players could take down Tiger Woods would be to "lynch him in a back alley."

She was replaced in the booth Friday by Rich Lerner.

Walker is a big hitter from Texas who was the Nationwide Tour player of the year in 2004 and had high hopes for his rookie season on the PGA Tour when he came to the Sony Open in 2005. But he never made it to the first tee.

While hitting balls on the practice range that Monday, he felt his neck get stiff and was in so much pain he was taken to the emergency room for tests. He found out he had a bulging disk in his neck, and wound up playing only nine events that year. So he tried again the following season, only to shoot 80 in the first round and miss the cut.

Walker, who turns 29 next week, earned his way back to the big leagues after finishing 25th on the Nationwide money list, earning the last card. He was surprised his status got him in the Sony Open, and he came over to Hawaii with mixed emotions.

"When I saw I was getting in, I was like, 'Oh, good. I get to go back to Hawaii.' I've got some good memories," he said, smiling wryly. "My wife stayed home; it hasn't been a great couple of trips for us. When you get in, you've got to play."

The blessing was playing well, starting with a birdie on No. 10, his first hole of a new season. He kept moving right along, using short irons from fairway and thick rough to get it close enough to make some putts, then finishing on the easy par-5 ninth with a 322-yard drive that left him a 7-iron for his second shot, and putt that put him atop the leaderboard.

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