Thomas surges 3 shots clear as PGA Tour makes Korea debut

AFP
Thomas is three strokes clear of five players on 6-under 66 — Malaysia's Gavin Green, the US trio of Chez Reavie, Scott Brown and Patrick Reed, and Australia's Marc Leishman.
AFP
AFP

Justin Thomas of the US putts on the 11th green during the first round of the CJ Cup, the US PGA Tour's first foray into South Korea, at Nine Bridges on Jeju Island on October 19, 2017.

World No. 4 Justin Thomas brushed off a shaky start to fire a superb 9-under-par 63 and take a three-shot lead after the first round of the CJ Cup on Thursday.

US PGA Championship winner Thomas is three strokes clear of five players on 6-under 66 — Malaysia's Gavin Green, the US trio of Chez Reavie, Scott Brown and Patrick Reed, and Australia's Marc Leishman.

Thomas came up short in his bid for a hat-trick of wins at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia last week, finishing tied 17th, and he bounced back from an early wobble at the Nine Bridges course in the first US PGA Tour event ever to be played in South Korea.

He dropped a shot "really badly" on his opening hole, the 10th, but got it back with interest by eagling the par-5 12th.

That was the start of a run of 8-under-par for seven holes comprising four birdies and another eagle at the 18th to reach the turn in a scintillating 7-under 29.

"It was a weird day," said 23-year-old FedEx Cup champion Thomas, who has been in sizzling form since winning his first major in August and was recently voted PGA Tour player of the year for 2017.

"It started off with a really badly played bogey and then I went on a seven-hole stretch where I kind of went unconscious and that was was pretty much most of my round."

Thomas holed a bunker shot at 15 for the second of four birdies in a row and chipped in from off the fringe at 16 for another.

"That's kind of how my day was. Hit two really bad wedge shots and got away with them to steal two bogeys," admitted Thomas.

His second nine was almost boring by comparison featuring three birdies and another bogey at the seventh to finish at 9-under.

Reavie had a bogey-free day with a balanced card of three birdies on each nine to get into the five-way tie for second.

"It was fun tying to figure out a new course" said the 35-year-old, who finished tied 17th alongside Thomas at TPC Kuala Lumpur. "My routes are going to be different to these long bombers but the greens were great."

Whee Kim shot a 4-under 68 to be the highest placed of the 17-strong Korean contingent, who all received enthusiastic home support at the inaugural US$9.25-million, 78-player event on the southern Jeju Island.

"The fans were super respectful and enjoy golf," said Reavie. "When you make birdies they cheer and they were rooting all of us on, it's great."

Thomas's group was followed by the biggest galleries as it contained the returning Korean hero Bae Sang-moon who shot 71 in only his third event since military service, and last week's winner in Malaysia, American Pat Perez, who carded 69.

"It was awesome out there," said Thomas. "I said to Bae you probably got the best crowds out here. He's a great guy and great player and it's good to have him back."

Players Championship winner and world No. 41 Kim Si-woo went one stroke better than Bae with a 70, but admitted the pressure of playing in front of his home fans in such a high-class field had affected him.

"I felt more nervous than when I played in the Masters," said the 22-year-old.


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