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Justin Thomas (of course) sets pace at Kapalua

Justin Thomas co-leader 1st round 2021 Sentry Tournament of Champions
Justin Thomas proves to be a horse for the Plantation Course, shooting 8-under 65 to share the 1st-round lead in the Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua Resort on Hawaii's Maui island.

With 2 victories in past 4 years in Tournament of Champions, Thomas shoots bogey-free 65 to tie Harris English for lead

Justin Thomas tapped in for birdie late Thursday at the winding, downhill 18th hole at Kapalua Resort’s Plantation Course to find himself in a familiar spot: leading the PGA Tour's Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Thomas shot a bogey-free 8-under 65 to share the first-round lead with fellow American Harris English (scores).

Thomas, the defending champion in the first event of the new year, has won in two of his past four appearances at the resort on Maui’s breezy northwest coast. He attributed his sharp play to a busy fall.

“I just remember from the previous year playing the Presidents Cup in December, it was nice because I felt like I didn't waste the month of December like I have in the past,” said Thomas, who tied for 12th at the Mayakoba Golf Classic before teaming with his father, Mike, a club professional, to win the PNC Championship parent-child exhibition on Dec. 20. “I mean, there's obviously time to enjoy the time off, be with your family, maybe not eat quite as well and all that, but it's not what the entire month is for, and I made that mistake in the past and hopefully I'll never do it again.”

Thomas, a 13-time winner on the PGA Tour, also won the 2020 WGC FedEx St. Jude title for his fourth consecutive multi-victory year.

Though Thomas birdied nearly half of the holes at the 1991 Bill Coore-Ben Crenshaw design, he credited a clutch par save at the par-4 13th hole after hitting his drive far right into deep native grass as a key point in his round.

“Those par saves can be more of a momentum boost than a birdie,” he said.

Thomas took advantage of the save, posting consecutive birdies on his next two holes before a two-putt birdie at the 18th.

“You need a good first round,” said Thomas, who is No. 3 in the world ranking. “This is a tough place to play from way behind.”

English offset a three-putt bogey from 30 feet at the par-4 seventh with an eagle – he chipped in at the par-5 ninth – and seven birdies.

English, 31, hasn’t won since his second season on the PGA Tour, when he won twice – at Memphis and at Mayakoba – in 2013. He earned a spot at Kapalua, traditionally a winners-only field, by virtue of his having qualified for the Tour Championship. The PGA Tour expanded the field for the 2021 opener to a record 42 players after 10 tournaments were canceled last year because of COVID-19.

“Even though I didn't win [in 2020], I felt like I played really well, probably had the most consistent season I've had on the PGA Tour,” said English, who ended the fall season with two finishes of sixth or better. “It's always nice starting off the year here in Kapalua.”

Former Masters champions Sergio Garcia and Patrick Reed were among six players tied for third at 6-under 67.

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson, the reigning FedEx Cup champion who won the Masters in November in his most recent start, shot 71.

The field was re-paired for Friday’s second round in the no-cut event, with Thomas and English in the anchor group (tee times).

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