Golf

Golf Roundup – Sony Open: Chris Kirk takes lead, Jordan Spieth takes tumble

HONOLULU (AP) — Chris Kirk finished strong at the Sony Open, making three birdies over his last four holes for a 7-under 63 and a one-shot lead.

Jordan Spieth wasn’t quite so fortunate.

Spieth hit four trees with four shots on the par-4 eighth hole — his 17th of the round — an episode that began with his tee shot caroming off a trunk and into a ditch. He wound up with a quadruple-bogey 8, and even a pitch from the rough short of the ninth green that stopped inches away for birdie wasn’t enough to appease him.

He made eight birdies and shot 69.

That was even more surprising than Thursday a year ago, when he had a 65 and was six shots behind Justin Thomas, who shot 59 in the same group.

Spieth declined media requests after he signed his card, instead taking 15 minutes to sign autographs.

Kirk played bogey-free on a gorgeous day along the shores just up the road from Waikiki Beach and had a one-shot lead over Vaughn Taylor, Kyle Stanley and Talor Gooch among the early starters at Waialae Country Club.

Thomas, the defending champion who broke the PGA Tour’s scoring record last year, played in the afternoon.

Kirk had only one top 10 last year — his final even of the year in the RSM Classic at Sea Island — and nearly two months off didn’t appear to half any momentum. He might have been rusty, but not when it comes to island life.

Because of the chilly weather in the South, Kirk brought his family out to Oahu a week ago Monday. He practiced a little in the morning at Ko Olina and hung out with his wife and children in the afternoon. He realized how little golf he had played during the short offseason when he reached into his bag and found golf balls that he had marked for the final round at Sea Island.

“I’ve probably been off long enough now that you never know what’s going to happen,” he said. “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.”

He hit wedge to about 3 feet on the 15th and 16th, and that final birdie on the par-5 18th was a two-putt from 10 feet.

Spieth played well enough to be right there with Kirk except for a couple of long three-putt bogeys.

And one tee shot that led to plenty of calamity.

His drive on No. 8 was not terribly offline, and the trees to the left are a common spot. This one hit the trunk of a tree and tumbled down a wide (and dry) ditch about 8 feet below the fairway. He studied his options. He found none.

He could have dropped it with a penalty stroke, but there was nowhere to go. His plan was to hit out of the sandy base of the ditch toward the trees closer to the fairway. If it hit the trees and dropped out, he would have been closer than the drop and at least had an opening to the putting surface.

It hit one of the smaller branches and came back toward him, about a yard short of go back down into the ditch. For his third shot, he had a gap toward the front of the green (the pin was back left), but out of a fluffly lie, the ball came out high and hit more trees, bouncing left and settle near another tree.

Next, he had to go under the tree in front of him and over a tree guarding the green. He only got the first part right.

At his point, he was lying 4 and was only a few yards away from the second tee, waiting for another group to tee off. His only choice there was to dump it into the bunker, where the sand was thin. He hit that out to 30 feet and two putts later had a snowman (8).

In Hawaii, of all places.

SA OPEN

GAUTENG, South Africa (AP) — Branden Grace and Chase Koepka shot 7-under 65s to share the first-round lead at the SA Open on Thursday.

Koepka, the younger brother of U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka, was among the morning starters and set the clubhouse target by hitting an eagle and seven birdies in his third tournament of his debut season on the European Tour.

Grace had three eagles — at Nos. 2, 8 and 15 — as he bids for a ninth European Tour title and to complete the set of wins at his native South Africa’s three most prestigious events. He has already won the Alfred Dunhill Championship in 2014 and the Nedbank Golf Challenge last year, as well as the Joburg Open in 2012.

England’s Chris Paisley was alone in third place after shooting 66.

EURASIA CUP

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Asia bucked the odds and led defending champion Europe 3 1/2 to 2 1/2 after the opening day of the EurAsia Cup on Friday.

With Asia holding the lead on a day of constant drizzle, Li Haotong earned the biggest cheer for the men in red after he birdied the final hole of the final fourball match for he and Nicholas Fung to force a draw against Europe’s Bernd Wiesberger and Rafa Cabrera Bello.

Asia seeks its first win in the third EurAsia Cup.

“I don’t want to ever sound cocky with a team like Europe, and I’m not going to get cocky, but it’s a great start,” Asia captain Arjun Atwal said.

“I noticed that every single pairing was comfortable with each other. That was my main goal this week, to just go out there and have fun.”

Asia trailed heavily on the first day of the previous competitions in 2014 and 2016, and lost the first match at Glenmarie Golf and Country Club when Tommy Fleetwood and Paul Casey beat Kiradech Aphibarnrat and An Byeong-hun 4 and 3.

But the Asians leveled through Kang Sung-hoon and Poom Saksansin, who overcame Henrik Stenson and Alexander Levy 5 and 4.

Kang and Poom started with eight successive birdies and went five up in the first seven holes. They secured victory on the 14th hole to send a surge of confidence through the Asian team.

Yuta Ikeda and Gavin Green kept up the momentum to beat Thomas Pieters and Thomas Fitzpatrick 2 and 1.

Green, who clinched the Asian Tour Order of Merit last month, clinched the match with two birdie putts in the final three holes to give Asia its second point.

Europe drew level when Ross Fisher and Tyrrell Hatton brushed aside S.S.P. Chawrasia and Anirban Lahiri 5 and 4.

But Asia went back in front thanks to Hideto Tanihara and teenager Phachara Khongwatmai, who beat Alex Noren and Paul Dunne by two holes.

Captain Thomas Bjorn promised Europe will return stronger in the six foursome matches on Saturday.

“I suspect that we’ll go out tomorrow and be ready to play, and foursomes is a very different game,” Bjorn said.

“We feel like we knew we could find ourselves in this position, and we knew this Asian team is very strong and very much ready to play.”

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