Byrd, playing on a sponsor's exemption, eagled the par 3 13th and picked up five birdies against just one bogey on his way to a one-shot lead over Crystal River, Florida, native Joe Cioe and Stephen Gangluff of Marysville, Ohio.
Canadian Tour veterans Jace Bugg and Bruce Heuchan joined Tom Straub another shot back at 4-under 68. Only 17 of the 79 players competing in the four-day even bettered par on a hot, windy day 45 miles southwest of Panama City.
'Yes, it was hot, but that was one of the reasons I came down here, to get out of the cold in South Carolina,' said Byrd, who made the cut and finished in the top 40 in the 2000 Michelob Championships at Kingsmill as a Monday qualifier.
'I played a great round, making just one bogey in the wind. It's a great start and I hope I can keep it going for the next few days.'
Byrd advanced to the finals of PGA Qualifying School in 2000 and is a conditional member of the 2001 Buy.Com Tour. And he, like most in the field, is hoping to get off to a good start in 2001 in Central America.
'This is a great field, and a great way to get warmed up for what's ahead,' Byrd said. 'There are a lot of good golfers down here, so a win here would be great for my career.'
The careers of Rob McMillan and Jason Bohn could reach a new level with a win this week. McMillan and Bohn stand third and fourth respectively on the 2000 McDonald's Order of Merit. A victory on Sunday and the $32,000 first-place check would vault either player into the leading money winner's spot for the 2000 season.
Bohn broke par on Thursday with a 1-under 71. McMillan shot 2-over 74, leaving him tied for 41st with 54 holes remaining.