The decisions might have been a bit more difficult this week with a field of 144 instead of 34. Now you know who you’re up against!
Chris Kirk (Georgia Bulldogs) fired a bogey-free 63 in the morning wave to grab the lead. Kirk matched his opening-round 63 at The RSM Classic to wrap up the 2017 season (T4). This is the fifth time in the last six years that he’s posted 65 or lower at Waialae. He posted back-to-back finishes inside the top five in this event in 2013-14 with T5 and solo second.
Zach Johnson (Drake Bulldogs) shares the lead also with a bogey-free 63. This Dawg didn’t have the pain and suffering as his friends from Athens after Georgia lost to Alabama in the College Football Playoff on Monday night. Johnson, similarly to Kirk, was posting low ones at the end of last year with a closing 64 at Mayakoba before a third round 64 at The RSM Classic (T8). The 2009 champ was late arriving because of the flu but he’s hit the ground running and looks to grab his fourth top 10 in the last five years.
The way he’s been playing in recent weeks is no laughing matter. His 64 to open suggests he’s not satisfied collecting top 10s. Harman played in the final group the final three rounds last week and finished third, his fourth straight outing inside the top 10. Hop on that saddle and have both hands on the reigns!
The Old Man and the Sea
As I wrote about in The Confidence Factor, Waialae is Jerry Kelly’s happy place. Sure, he’s 51 but he’s also the second-highest earner in the history of this event. This is his 21st start and his opening round 66 will put him in a great position to make his 16th weekend. His MC last year broke up a streak of three in a row in the top 10. Think Fred Couples at Augusta if you need a comparison!
Defending champion Justin Thomas (67) posted his worst round in five trips as he didn’t sign for anything over 65 in setting the tournament scoring record last year. With Jim “Bones” McKay on the bag for the first time, Thomas didn’t square a bogey and made three birdies. The wind, as expected, was not a factor on Thursday so he’s in excellent shape for Friday morning to get even lower. With 59 and 61 to his name on this track already, I’m sticking him into the lineup tomorrow. Players who didn’t get in red figures today are going to have to get low on Friday as the top 98 are currently even or better. The cut last year was 3-under-par 137.
Two-time winner Sangmoon Bae is back on TOUR after serving required military service in his native Korea. His two year duty has ended and he’s back and looking to recapture the form that made him valuable to gamers from 2012-2015. His final full season, 2015, saw him tee it up 30 times, win once and add four additional top 10s. At 31 he’s hardly past it as his 66 on Thursday suggests. I’ll also point out this is his first round in the 60s in 11 tries this season so I’m not jumping in just yet.