KAPALUA, Hawaii — Justin Thomas kept bogeys off his card, thanks in part of Dustin Johnson’s caddie, and birdied three of his last five holes Thursday for an 8-under 65 to share the lead with Harris English in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
Thomas couldn’t have asked for a better start in his bid to become the first back-to-back winner at Kapalua since 2010. On a gorgeous afternoon on the western edge of Maui, he birdied three straight holes to finish the front nine and took advantage of the scoring holes on the back nine.
But it was the 13th hole where Thomas got his biggest break.
He sent his drive well to the right into the deep native grasses, expecting it never to be found. He hit a provisional, and the group made a cursory search when Austin Johnson found it by stepping on it.
The ball was replaced to its original spot — only about a half-turn — and Thomas hacked out sideways, put it on the green and rolled in a par putt from just inside 40 feet.
A two-putt birdie on the par-5 18th tied him with English, whose 65 was highlighted by pitching in for eagle on No. 9.
Unlike the wind that was ripping across the Plantation Course earlier in the week as the players arrived, it was relatively calm by Kapalua standards and it showed in the scoring. Only two players in the 42-man field were over par.
Nick Taylor of Abbotsford, B.C., is in the hunt. Taylor opened with a 6-under 67 in Hawaii to sit two strokes behind first-round leaders Harry English and Justin Thomas. Fellow Canadian Mackenzie Hughes (Dundas, Ont.,) fired a 73.
Sergio Garcia, playing at Kapalua for the first time in 15 years, and Patrick Reed were also among those at 6-under 67, with Adam Scott in the group at 68.
Johnson, making his first start since winning the Masters in November, showed some rust on the greens. He had good birdie looks on the final six holes and didn’t make any of them, settling for a 2-under 71.
The tournament features more than just PGA Tour winners for the first time. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic that shut down golf for three months, the field includes anyone who made it to the Tour Championship.