Not until holing out the last of his nine birdies did Jonathan Byrd realize what he had done.
With few players still on the course Friday afternoon, Byrd quietly and efficiently climbed to the top of the leaderboard at the midpoint of the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. Byrd shot 8-under-par 63, good for a 13-under 129 total at TPC Summerlin.
"I hadn't really looked at the scoreboard, so I was just playing," said Byrd, 32, who has four victories in his 11-year PGA Tour career but none since 2007. "I've hit it well and putted well the first two days, so I'm definitely happy to be in this position."
Byrd, whose lone blip was a bogey on his second hole (No. 11), made five birdies on his front side. He added four on his back nine, and the final one, on the par-5 No. 9, moved him one shot ahead of Japan's Ryuji Imada, whose 9-under 62 matched defending champion Martin Laird of Scotland for the best round of the day.
Byrd's move to the top of the leaderboard was unexpected. The former Clemson player missed the cut here the last two years and has finished no better than a tie for 13th in 2002 in seven Las Vegas starts.
Even if Byrd fades, his strong round Friday probably allowed him to keep his PGA Tour card for 2011. He is 117th on the earnings list, and the check he'll receive Sunday is almost certain to keep him among the top 125 for automatic playing privileges.
"I haven't had a great season," he said. "I was (No.) 130 coming into the Fall (Series), and I knew I needed to play well. But I feel like my game's starting to come around the last two days, and I just want to keep it going two more days."
Imada came to Las Vegas with some momentum after his highest finish of the season, a tie for sixth in the Frys.com Open in San Martin, Calif.
"I was playing really well last week," he said. "But I didn't expect 62 (today)."
With more rain softening the greens Friday, Davis Love III's course record of 61 from 2001 was in danger. Imada and Laird fell one shot short, but neither was disappointed.
"I made a lot of 20-footers," Imada said. "I was putting well last week, so I had some confidence coming here. It helps me to have softer greens because I'm not a long hitter."
Laird needed a low score to get into contention after opening with a 2-under 69. He played bogey-free and made a steady climb, leveling off at 11 under with his 9-under round. Three of his nine birdies came on the three par-5s (Nos. 9, 13 and 16).
"It's the type of tournament where you've got to keep firing at pins," Laird said. "It's almost like you're playing inside with no wind and the soft greens. Other than the rain for a couple of holes, it was perfect."
With 33 players within five shots of the lead, there should be no shortage of drama in today's third round, which tees off at 7:15 a.m. Laird is two shots back at 131, as are 2007 champion George McNeill, new Las Vegas resident Alex Prugh, John Senden and Nicholas Thompson.
Eight players are at 132, including Graham DeLaet, who caught fire late in the day with an 8-under 63; former UNLV player Chad Campbell (64); Rickie Fowler (64); Fowler's Summerlin roommate, Cameron Tringale; and Henderson resident Nick Watney.
"There's obviously a few places you can't hit it around some of the greens," said Fowler, who improved seven shots from Thursday. "Other than that, it doesn't matter what you have in your hand. You can really stay aggressive and give yourself a chance to make a lot of birdies.
"Obviously, making the cut is the first step to winning a tournament. So we're in good position going into the weekend. We're right where we want to be."
Contact reporter Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2913.