Bradley, Schauf­fele 1 back in Malaysia

Aus­tralian Smith takes first-day lead; Thomas trails by 6.

The Palm Beach Post - - 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.

Lit­tle won­der then the twotime de­fend­ing cham­pion was slightly off his game in the first round Thurs­day, man­ag­ing only a 2-un­der-par 70 to sit six strokes be­hind leader Cameron Smith of Aus­tralia in Kuala Lumpur.

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.

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.

Schauf­fele, the U.S. tour rookie of the year, said he was tak­ing plenty of no­tice of how Thomas ap­proaches this course and is try­ing to keep it sim­ple.

“I pretty much tried to copy every­thing that he did be­cause I fig­ured he’s a good guy to im­i­tate out here,” Schauf­fele said.

Thomas mixed five birdies with three bo­geys. Schauf­fele and Poom made seven birdies to go into early con­tention, while Bradley ea­gled the 12th hole to make amends for his sole bo­gey.

Smith’s round of eight birdies in­clud­ing five on the front nine. “The putting was easy ac­tu­ally,” Smith said.

He’s chas­ing his sec­ond ti­tle of the year af­ter win­ning the Zurich Clas­sic in April.

The Amer­i­can trio of Kevin Na, Gary Wood­land, and Pat Perez were also in con­tention in the Asian Tour event af­ter card­ing 66s.

LPGA: 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 her home coun­try as the South Korean bol­stered her bid to win LPGA rookie of the year and player of the year.

Park was tied for the firstround lead with Min-Sun Kim and Min­jee Lee in In­cheon.

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 topranked So Yeon Ryu opened with a 72, while Lexi Thomp­son had a 69.

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.

Europe: De­fend­ing cham­pion and home fa­vorite Francesco Moli­nari was among six play­ers who shared a on­e­stroke lead af­ter the open­ing round of the Ital­ian Open.

Jamie Don­ald­son, Ki­radech Aphibarn­rat, Ed­die Pep­perell, Matt Wal­lace and Alexan­der Bjork also shot 7-un­der 64s at the Golf Club Mi­lano, next to Monza’s For­mula One cir­cuit.

STAN­LEY CHOU / GETTY IMAGES

Kee­gan Bradley eyes a shot dur­ing his 7-un­der 65 at the CIMB Clas­sic in Kuala Lumpur. Bradley was tied with fel­low Amer­i­can Xan­der Schauf­fele and Poom Sak­sansin of Thai­land for sec­ond.

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