Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa and JJ Spaun lead the way at Tournament of Champions after nine-under-par first rounds; England's Matt Fitzpatrick among six players who are two strokes off the leaders; Only three shots separate the top 16 players headed into the second round
Friday 6 January 2023 11:12, UK
Low scores were abound in the first round of the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii, with Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa and JJ Spaun all sharing the lead on nine-under par.
Each of the trio carded 64 to commence their PGA Tour seasons in fine fashion.
They lead by one from South Korea's Tom Kim, who picked up two eagles en route to an opening round 65.
England's Matt Fitzpatrick is among six players who are two strokes back on seven under, while Ireland's Seamus Power is two shots further back after carding a round of 68.
Despite the leaders' low scores, only three shots separate the top 16 players headed into the second round.
The Tournament of Champions, which includes 39 players, is the first of 17 designated PGA Tour events with elevated purses this year. In the past, this event was limited to players who won a tournament the previous year, but the 2023 field was expanded to feature players who did not win in 2022 but did reach the Tour Championship.
Morikawa was just two under par at the turn before reeling off six consecutive birdies. Following two pars, he closed with another birdie at the par-five 18th hole.
He credited the strong round to start the year in part to work with two new members of his team, putting coach Stephen Sweeney and chipping coach Parker McLachlin.
"It's good to have someone that knows a lot about short game and you just kind of bounce ideas off," Morikawa said of McLachlin.
As for his work with Sweeney, Morikawa said, "I just have answers. Before when I was putting, it was like guess work. I might have putted well today and then thought I was doing something, but in reality it was something else."
Spaun's round was highlighted by a string of four straight birdies in the middle of the back nine.
He said of his initial round after the circuit's holiday break:
"The walk is kind of tough. My toes hurt, but it was a great first round for me out here on Tour and in competition. So, yeah, I can't ask for anything more."
Asked if he ever experienced toe problems previously, he said, "I think this is a first for me. Just all those uphills and then downhill, you're really on the balls of your feet all day.
"Walking downhill is almost just as hard. It's like, you're kind of like bracing yourself, so it's hard. Tough life out here (smiling)."
Defending champion Cameron Smith of Australia is not in the field after jumping from the PGA Tour to LIV Golf.
Watch round two of the Sentry Tournament of Champions live on Sky Sports Golf from 7.30pm on Friday.