REUTERS - Americans Michael Thompson, Chris Kirk, Webb Simpson and Jordan Spieth revelled in a birdie fest as they charged into a tie for the lead in Friday’s opening round of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
Thompson birdied five of the last eight holes for a seven-under-par 66 in breezy conditions at the picturesque Kapalua Resort in Hawaii to seize the early lead at the elite, winners-only event.
However, Thompson was caught at the top by a red-hot Kirk, who piled up five consecutive birdies from the 14th, and then Spieth, who calmly rolled in a 12-footer on the 18th green for his seventh birdie in a bogey-free round.
Late in the day, 2012 U.S. Open champion Simpson made it a four-way share of the lead after recording three birdies in the last four holes at Kapalua’s undulating Plantation Course.
“I played really well,” Thompson, who booked his place in the prestigious field of 30 with his maiden PGA Tour victory at last year’s Honda Classic, told Golf Channel after mixing eight birdies with a lone bogey.
“I stuck to my game plan today which was to stay in the present, stay in the moment, visualise my shots really clearly and I executed. So it was a fun day.”
Spieth, the 2013 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year after a sensational campaign that included a maiden win at the John Deere Classic and total earnings of just under $4 million, said he was “humbled” to be in the elite field at Kapalua.
”It’s amazing,“ the 20-year-old Texan smiled. ”It’s an accomplishment just to be here in the first place and I am humbled to play alongside these 29 other guys that are champions from the past year.
“It’s good fun. To play Kapalua, a course I’ve watched for so many years, and then finally being able to be here, it’s a cool experience for me.”
Jason Dufner, winner of last year’s PGA Championship, opened with a 67 to end the opening round level with fellow Americans Ryan Moore, Zach Johnson and Kevin Streelman.
Streelman, who secured his spot at Kapalua with his first PGA Tour win at last year’s Tampa Bay Championship, had been a stroke in front at eight under with two holes to play before going bogey-bogey.
“I think as a professional golfer you try and be as mature as you can about that and really look at the positives, what I did well today,” Streelman, who had earlier eagled the third and fifth, said of his faltering finish.
“I hit some awesome shots and putted the ball really well. It’s just day one and I‘m in a good position on the board.”
Masters champion and world number two Adam Scott of Australia mixed five birdies with two bogeys to card a 70, finishing level with playing partner Dustin Johnson after teeing off in the day’s marquee pairing.
Long-hitting American Johnson triumphed by three shots last year in a tournament reduced to three rounds and forced to a rare Tuesday finish because of relentless howling winds at Kapalua.
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Greg Stutchbury