The wind was blowing so hard when Jonathan Byrd woke up in rental house on the Pacific bluffs that he worried about having to play Riviera. It worked out just fine Thursday in the Northern Trust Open.

Byrd had beautiful control of his irons for a 3-under 68, giving him the lead among early starters in gusts up to 20 mph.

"I wanted to go back to bed," Byrd said.

Instead, he ran off three birdies in his opening seven holes and kept the mistakes to a minimum, dropping a shot on the 18th that was into the wind and kept him from reaching the green on the par 4.

K.J. Choi and Brendan Steele each opened with a 69, while world No. 1 Luke Donald was among those at 70.

The wind was so fierce — and it doesn't take much at Riviera — that only seven players among the 72 who had morning tee times broke par. The others were Bubba Watson, Justin Rose and David Hearn, who doubled-bogeyed his last hole.

Pebble Beach winner Phil Mickelson was among those playing in the afternoon, with no letup from the wind. It was expected to be strong through Friday.

If Byrd were to stay in the lead by the end of the day, the 68 would be the highest score to lead after the opening round at Riviera since 1984, when seven players shot 70.

Byrd is sharing a house this week with several players, including Stewart Cink, Phoenix Open winner Kyle Stanley and Zach Johnson. They all played in the afternoon.

"We're staying up on a bluff about five miles away," he said. "I got out of bed this morning and walked outside, and I was pretty anxious about playing this golf course today because it was howling on top of that bluff. And it whipped all day. My approach was just to keep it in play and have a pretty conservative game plan."

It worked better than he imagined. Byrd two-putted for birdie on the easy opening hole, stuffed a lob wedge into 5 feet on No. 3 and hit what he thinks was his best shot on the seventh, an 8-iron to a back pin for another short birdie.

The wind was out of the northeast, which is rare for Riviera, and while most of the holes are downwind, it was hard to get the ball close. Byrd said it helped that the greens were softer than he expected, a product of PGA Tour officials aware of how nasty it could get in the wind.

Choi loves playing in the wind — he gets his share of that in Dallas — but this was different.

"What makes Riviera Country Club so difficult is the targets are very small," Choi said. "But if you have control of what you're doing, then obviously it's going to make it easier."

What made it easy for Choi was a solid short game. He chipped it so well he rarely had to stress over par.

Bob Estes, who had been playing well to start the year, opened with an 80, which included a three-putt for double bogey on No. 17 from about 3 feet.

UCLA sophomore Patrick Cantlay, who made the cut in every PGA Tour event he played last year, opened with an 80. The Northern Trust Open also gave an exemption to Texas freshman Jordan Spieth, who had a 76.

Anthony Kim, in his hometown tournament, shot 78.

The average score from the morning wave was 73.8.