Niemann continues good form to share lead at Sony Open in Hawaii

By Sports Desk January 15, 2021

Joaquin Niemann is part of a three-way tie for the lead after the opening round of the Sony Open in Hawaii.

The Chilean carded an eight-under 62 at the Waialae Country Club on Thursday to lead alongside Peter Malnati and Jason Kokrak.

Coming off a play-off loss to Harris English at the Tournament of Champions, Niemann's fine start to 2021 continued.

The 22-year-old made seven birdies, a bogey and an eagle, the latter coming with a chip in at the 18th.

Kokrak produced a bogey-free opening round, while Malnati mixed nine birdies with one bogey.

At the 17th, Kokrak almost produced a hole-in-one, only to see his shot lip out as he was forced to settle for a birdie.

Vaughn Taylor, Jim Herman, Aaron Baddeley, Patton Kizzire, Daniel Berger and Kim Si-woo are two shots adrift of the leaders.

The champion in 2018, Kizzire made a 45-foot eagle putt from off the green at the ninth, while Baddeley – runner-up in 2003 – is also in contention.

A group of 13 players are at five under, including last year's runner-up Brendan Steele, 2014 runner-up Chris Kirk and 2012 U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson.

Defending champion Cameron Smith opened with a three-under 67 to be in a tie for 40th.

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    The former world number one vaulted up the leaderboard into a share of fifth place, following up a steady 71 with a bogey-free round containing four birdies and an eagle.

    A two-time winner of this tournament, having been champion as a 19-year-old in 2009 and again in 2015, McIlroy has happy memories and there could be more cause to celebrate come Sunday.

    He moved to seven under par through 36 holes, putting him just four shots behind the leader, Justin Harding of South Africa, who added a 68 to his opening 65.

    England's Tyrrell Hatton sits second on nine under after matching McIlroy's score. Nobody beat 66 in the second round, with Germany's Nicolai von Dellingshausen also making the same score, in his case atoning for an opening 77 to reach a share of 38th place.

    South African Erik van Rooyen and Paraguayan Fabrizio Zanotti share second on eight under par, with McIlroy one shot back in a group that also includes England's Richard Bland, Norway's Viktor Hovland, Adrian Meronk of Poland, and the first-round leader Joachim B Hansen, who had four bogeys and four birdies in a level-par 72. Tommy Fleetwood, Lee Westwood and Paul Casey were all on six under.

    McIlroy chipped in for eagle at 13, while leader Harding, who began on the back nine, holed from 183 yards at the par-four sixth.

    There was satisfaction but also frustration for McIlroy after his round, as he said: "It could have been way lower. I certainly hit the ball good enough for it to be a few shots lower. I hit the ball as good as I've done in a long time, and it could have been a few better, but 66 is a good score and sets me up for a nice weekend."

    McIlroy said he had been making technical alterations to his swing on the range, and added: "I thought I hit my irons a lot better today and was in control of the driver a bit better too."

    To his frustration, McIlroy has not won a major since reaching four big ones in 2014, but he had two victories on the PGA Tour last year and was firmly in the hunt for the DP World Tour Championship in November until a closing 74 scuppered his chances.

    The Northern Irishman tied for 12th last week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, enjoying a strong weekend after only just making the cut. This time he is in a better position from which to strike, and he likes his game at the moment.

    "I think with how I ended last year, I certainly found something. I got a little bit of momentum, I won on the PGA Tour and had a really good chance to win here in Dubai at the end of last season," McIlroy said speaking to the DP World Tour website.

    "But it feels good. There are so many ebbs and flows in this game and the career's so long that it's hard to compare one season to the next, and how you're feeling and how you're hitting it. But looking back on my last 12 or 14 years, the body of work is there.

    "I've played well when I haven't felt so good and I've played poorly when I've felt really good. So it's just a matter of keep showing up each and every day and try your best and try to put the lowest score possible on the scorecard and move on."

  • Schenk within a stroke of course record to share lead with Rahm and Thomas Schenk within a stroke of course record to share lead with Rahm and Thomas

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    The American, who turned 30 on Wednesday, made eight consecutive birdies was within one shot of equaling the course record, with his 15-feet putt on the 18th hole lipping out.

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    Spaniard Garcia had just two top-10 finishes on the European Tour last season, but one of those came at this event, and he showed his liking for the tournament he won in 2017 with another sparkling round.

    It was not enough for the lead, with Denmark's Joachim B Hansen ahead of the field thanks to an impressive 65 that featured birdies at four of the first five holes.

    Garcia held a share of third place through 18 holes, with South African Justin Harding nudging up to second on six under through 17 holes before darkness forced him to delay completing his round until Friday.

    It was as a 19-year-old in 1999 that Garcia first won on the European Tour, which has been renamed as the DP World Tour this season, with that breakthrough triumph coming at the Irish Open.

    He was a champion twice on the tour that year, landed six victories in the 2000s and added eight European Tour titles in the 2010s, including a Masters victory, which counted to his win list on both sides of the Atlantic.

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    "It was good. I think obviously it got a little bit more challenging the last couple of holes with left-to-right wind," he said. "I made a couple of nice par saves at the right times and kept it in play for the most part. I hit a good amount of greens and when I didn't, my chipping and putting was there to help me. So that was good."

    In an interview on the European Tour website, Garcia added: "I still have a lot of things I want to achieve. I want to keep trying, to get better, challenge myself to improve. That's never easy and as you get older it's obviously tougher, but I'll work hard and hopefully keep fighting."

    Garcia had company on five under from fellow Spaniard Pablo Larrazabal, as well as Englishman Tommy Fleetwood, Italy's Andrea Pavan, Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee and Paraguayan Fabrizio Zanotti.

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