Chilean sinks 50-foot eagle chip on No. 18 to join Americans Jason Kokrak and Peter Malnati at 8-under 62 for share of 1st-round lead
Three guys with a lot of recent mojo surged to the top of the leaderboard during Thursday’s first round of the PGA Tour’s Sony Open in Hawaii.
All three are one-time winners on the PGA Tour, and they arrived on Oahu with plenty of good vibes from their recent play. Niemann finished runner-up last week at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, losing to Harris English on the first playoff hole. Kokrak, in his 10th season on the PGA Tour, won his first title in the fall, at the CJ Cup at Shadow Creek, qualifying for his first T of C, in which he tied for 35th. Malnati is making his 2021 debut after rewarding himself for a solid fall with a month off. He made five cuts in seven starts in the fall, capped by two top-5s, notably a runner-up at the Sanderson Farms Championship, the site of his lone PGA Tour victory, in 2015.
So, with all of that momentum, it was no surprise to see the three of them as the pace setters at the 1927 Seth Raynor design.
Niemann, 22, who is ranked 31st in the world, cited some “extra motivation” after coming so close to his second victory four days earlier.
“It’s always great to start a new year this way,” he said. “I’m doing everything well. It’s easy when playing that way.”
Kokrak, 35, just three months removed from his first PGA Tour title, noted that “the misses were better than most” in a stress-free round. “I drove it well and kept it in the fairway,” he said, “and gave myself a lot of birdie chances.”
“After winning, that confidence just drives me to want to win more,” said Kokrak, who is No. 27 in the world ranking.
During the downtime in December, Malnati, 33, “soaked up the time at home” in Knoxville, Tenn., with his wife, Alicia, and their 1-year-old son, Hatcher. “I was playing great obviously last fall and kind of just tried to keep the momentum going over the little break and do just enough work to stay sharp and to come out and play well here today,” said Malnati, who posted nine birdies against one bogey at Waialae. “It felt really great.”
Malnati, 33, had struggled in the 2019-20 season, his sixth on the PGA Tour. He finished 137th on the FedEx Cup standings after he made 10 cuts in 21 starts, with no top-10s.
Jim Herman, who missed last week’s Sentry Tournament of Champions after having tested positive for COVID-19 on Dec. 28, shot 6-under 64. He shared fourth place with five others: Aaron Baddeley, Daniel Berger, Si Woo Kim, Patton Kizzire and Vaughn Taylor
Charles Howell III, who has made 19 cuts in as many starts at Waialae, was headed for another weekend stay in Honolulu after opening with a 3-under 67.
The winner will receive $1.188 million from the $6.6 million purse.
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