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The Journal Gazette

Friday, January 12, 2018 1:00 am

Golf

Johnson, Kirk shine while Spieth struggles

Associated Press

HONOLULU — Zach Johnson and Chris Kirk kept clean cards on a gorgeous day and each shot 7-under 63 to share the lead after the first round of the Sony Open.

Jordan Spieth wasn't as 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, marring his eight-birdie round for only a 69.

Defending champion Justin Thomas opened with a 67, but he was all smiles on the 17th hole. Thomas, an Alabama alum, won a bet that required Georgia graduate Kevin Kisner to wear a Crimson Tide jersey from the tee box to the green.

Kirk finished strong, making three birdies over his last four holes.

Kirk had only one top 10 last year – his final even of the year in the RSM Classic at Sea Island.

“I really had no expectations whether I was going to play good or bad after having some time off,” he said. “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.”

EUROPEAN: In Gauteng, South Africa, Branden Grace and Chase Koepka shot 7-under 65s to share the first-round lead at the SA Open.

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 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, and the Joburg Open in 2012.

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