With one round of the 2018 Sony Open in the books, Chris Kirk and Zach Johnson share a slim one-shot lead at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu.
Kirk and Johnson shot a seven-under 63 for the round. Four golfers are tied for third at six under, and another four are in a tie for seventh.
Following a solid front nine, Kirk came alive on the final nine holes. He started with a birdie on No. 10 and then reeled off four more birdies between Nos. 13 and 18.
"I've probably been off long enough now that you never know what's going to happen," Kirk said after his round, per the Associated Press (via USA Today). "I really had no expectations whether I was going to play good or bad after having some time off. But this is a golf course that I've traditionally done pretty well on, and a place that I really love. So you always feel like it's possible."
Kirk knows how important a strong opening round can be. He had a 63 in the first round of his last tournament, the RSM Classic in November. He tied for fourth at the event, which was his first top-10 finish at a PGA Tour event since the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in November 2016.
Johnson is also looking to build on the momentum he generated at the RSM Classic, where he tied for eighth.
The two-time major champion wasn't a model of consistency off the tee—landing eight of his 14 drives on the fairway—but he made up for it with a nearly perfect approach game. According to PGATour.com, Johnson reached 16 of 18 greens in regulation and had 2.801 stokes gained from approach to green, which was fourth-best in the round.
A number of golf's biggest stars opted against playing in the Sony Open, and two of the early favorites, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, didn't get off to great starts Thursday.
Spieth carded three bogeys and a quadruple-bogey on No. 8 that essentially wiped out all of the progress he otherwise made. He needed a birdie on his final hole just to get under par for the round.
According to Golf Channel's Justin Ray, Spieth's opening round hadn't been replicated in more than 20 years:
Justin Ray @JustinRayGC
Jordan Spieth: 1st player since Vijay in 1996 to make 8+ birdies in a round at Waialae and record a score of 69 or higher.2018-1-11 22:44:40
Thomas fared slightly better but still has a lot of work to do in order to catch Johnson and Kirk. The 2017 PGA champion sits at three under in a tie for 20th.
That's not to say Thomas didn't have a Thursday to remember.
Thomas, who played in college at Alabama, was paired with Kevin Kisner, who helped Georgia claim a national title in 2005. They made a bet based on the outcome of the College Football Playoff National Championship.
Because the Crimson Tide defeated the Bulldogs, Kisner had to pay up. The PGA Tour showed Kisner donning an Alabama football jersey:
PGA TOUR @PGATOUR
The debt has been paid! 🏈😂 @K_Kisner, @FootballUGA fan, wears @JustinThomas34's @AlabamaFTBL jersey! #NationalChampionship https://t.co/Tvf2Npsfcs2018-1-12 03:06:52
Even if he doesn't successfully defend his Sony Open title, the satisfaction of seeing Kisner representing the Crimson Tide will likely be more than enough for Thomas.
Johnson will tee off with the sixth group early Friday morning, which gives him an opportunity gain an edge on Kirk and possibly open a bigger lead over the rest of the field. Conversely, teeing off later in the afternoon could be to Kirk's advantage, since he'll have a better idea as to what it will take to remain in first place heading into the weekend.