Sahith Theegala birdied six in a row on the back nine on Thursday as he streaked to a one-shot lead in the PGA Tour’s season-opening Sentry tournament at Kapalua in Hawaii.
The 26-year-old Californian’s 10th birdie of the day at the par-five 18th gave him a nine-under total of 64 as he broke free atop a crowded leaderboard on the island of Maui that featured five players sharing second on eight under.
That group featured two-time Major winner Collin Morikawa, world No 4 Viktor Hovland, Colombian Camilo Villegas, Australian Jason Day and South Korean Im Sung-jae.
World No 1 Scottie Scheffler headlined a group on seven-under 66, where he was joined by Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele, Emiliano Grillo and Jordan Spieth.
South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen carded a 72 that included three birdies and two bogeys.
It was an emotional day for Morikawa, whose grandparents were born in Lahaina on Maui, which was ravaged by deadly wildfires in August.
Morikawa hit the tournament’s opening tee shot after a ceremony on the first tee that included a Hawaiian prayer and blessing.
“I can talk about final rounds, last shots, first tee, final group and those in the Majors, but that was as big of an honour as I could have had,” Morikawa said.
“Not because it was the first tournament of the year, but because it was out here in Maui, everything that this week represents for me. It just means that much more,” said Morikawa, who had six birdies and an eagle at the par-five 9th in his bogey-free round.
Morikawa and Villegas had already set the target when Theegala surged to the lead with his run of six straight birdies starting with a 17-footer at the 10th.
He birdied from inside two feet at the 11th, got up and down for birdie from a greenside bunker at the 12th, rolled in a 20-footer at 13, holed a four-footer at 14 and two-putted from 21 feet at the par-five 15th.
He gave a stroke back with a bogey at the 16th, where he was in a fairway bunker off the tee. But his birdie at 18 put him back in front.
Theegala said the birdie at 12 was probably his favourite of the streak.
“Just because I hit a great drive, just hit it in the greenside bunker there. Didn’t hit a great bunker shot and I had a really gnarly eight- or nine-footer that I didn’t know which way it was going to break – grain was going all over the place.
“I just aimed it dead centre and tried to hit it hard and hearted that putt.”
Theegala is leading an elite field of 59 in the $20-million tournament at Kapalua’s par-73 Plantation course, with 2023 tournament winners and the top 50 from last season’s FedEx Cup qualifying.
© Agence France-Presse
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