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