The Day - - LOCAL SPORTS -

Justin Thomas col­lected the Jack Nick­laus Award as the U.S. PGA Tour player of the year a cou­ple of days be­fore head­ing to Malaysia in a bid to win his third suc­ces­sive CIMB Classic in Kuala Lumpur. Lit­tle won­der then the two-time defending cham­pion was slightly off his game in the first round on Thurs­day, man­ag­ing only a 2-un­der-par 70 to sit six strokes be­hind leader Cameron Smith of Aus­tralia. Smith opened with a blem­ish-free 8-un­der 64 and leads a U.S. PGA Tour event af­ter the first round for the first time in 64 starts. Kee­gan Bradley, Xan­der Schauf­fele and Poom Sak­sansin of Thai­land were tied for sec­ond at 7 un­der. Bren­dan Steele, com­ing off a vic­tory last week at the Safe­way Open, had an open­ing 67 to be three shots off the lead. Thomas has barely had time to catch his breath af­ter win­ning the FedEx Cup and play­ing in the Pres­i­dents Cup. He won his first tour ti­tle here two years ago. He suc­cess­fully de­fended it last year, and has had a trans­for­ma­tive 2017 in which he’s won five ti­tles and his first ma­jor, the U.S. Open. He’s aim­ing to be the first player to win the same tour­na­ment three years in a row since Steve Stricker at the John Deer Classic from 2009-11.

Defending cham­pion and home fa­vorite Francesco Moli­nari was among six play­ers who shared a on­e­stroke lead af­ter the open­ing round of the Ital­ian Open in Monza. Jamie Don­ald­son, Ki­radech Aphibarn­rat, Ed­die Pep­perell, Matt Wal­lace and Alexan­der Bjork also shot 7-un­der 64s Thurs­day at the Golf Club Mi­lano, next to Monza’s For­mula One cir­cuit. Ge­orge Coet­zee and An Byeong-hun were both one stroke back in the Rolex Se­ries event, which has an in­creased purse of $7 mil­lion this year as part of the buildup to the 2022 Ry­der Cup out­side Rome. Masters cham­pion Ser­gio Gar­cia stood in a group two strokes be­hind the lead­ers, while play­ing part­ner and fel­low Spa­niard Jon Rahm was among those three shots be­hind. Tommy Fleet­wood, who leads the Race to Dubai ahead of Gar­cia and Rahm, had some ground to make up af­ter a par 71. Moli­nari chipped in for birdie at No. 18, his ninth hole of the day, and fin­ished with nine birdies and two bo­geys. “I started pretty much where I left off last year,” Moli­nari said.

South Korea’s Sung Hyun Park birdied her last two holes for a 6-un­der 66 and a share of the lead in the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Cham­pi­onship in In­cheon, South Korea, bol­ster­ing her bid to win LPGA rookie of the year and player of the year. Park was tied for the first-round lead with Min-Sun Kim and Min­jee Lee. Cristie Kerr, com­ing off a vic­tory last week in France, was among those at 67. Park, who won the U.S. Women’s Open this year for her first ma­jor and is No. 2 in the world, was play­ing Thurs­day in the fea­tured group at Sky 72 Golf & Re­sort com­pris­ing the top three play­ers in the world rank­ing. The top-ranked So Yeon Ryu opened with a 72, while Lexi Thomp­son had a 69. “I am off to a re­ally good start,” Park said. “I’m feel­ing re­ally good. My only hope at this point is that I main­tain this. My putting was re­ally strong to­day, es­pe­cially I was hol­ing a lot of my midrange putts. So I’m quite sat­is­fied with that.” The 24-year-old Park won six times last year on the Korean LPGA. In her first sea­son on the Amer­i­can tour, she al­ready has won the U.S. Women’s Open and the Cana­dian Women’s Open. She leads the LPGA money list and is No. 3 on the points list of player of the year be­hind Ryu and Thomp­son.

— As­so­ci­ated Press

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