Chile’s Niemann shares Sony Open lead with Malnati, Kokrak

Published January 15, 2021, 1:04 PM

by Agence-France-Presse

Joaquin Niemann of Chile plays his shot from the 17th tee during the first round of the Sony Open in Hawaii at the Waialae Country Club on January 14, 2021 in Honolulu, Hawaii. Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images/AFP

Joaquin Niemann chipped in for eagle from off the green at the 18th hole on Thursday to grab a share of the first-round lead in the US PGA Tour Sony Open alongside Peter Malnati and Jason Kokrak.

Chile’s Niemann, who lost a playoff to Harris English at the Tour Championship on Sunday, added seven birdies and one bogey in his eight-under par 62 at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Malnati had nine birdies and one bogey as he set an early target, and Kokrak fired eight birdies without a bogey in an afternoon effort that matched his career-low round on the PGA Tour.

Niemann, who grabbed his first US tour title at the Greenbrier in September of 2019, said his near-miss at Kapalua last weekend provided “a little extra motivation.”

“It hurt a little bit,” the 22-year-old said. “But you have to go to the next page. We’re in another week (you’ve) just got to forget about it and take the positives of last week.”

Niemann said that a little bit of everything was going right for him on Thursday.

“Hitting the ball great off the tee, my irons are pretty good, I’m putting well — it’s easy when you’re playing that way,” he said, adding that his chip-in at the last “will help me sleep for tomorrow.”

Malnati, who won his only tour title at the Sanderson Farms Championship in 2016, kickstarted his day with a 35-foot birdie putt at the 11th — his second hole.

He added another birdie at 12 and answered his lone bogey of the day with a birdie at 14. After back-to-back birdies at 17 and 18 he added four more birdies coming in, including a five-footer at the 18th.

“It’s always great to play well,” Malnati said. “The more you can play well at the start, the easier it is to kind of roll that into more. So to get a good number on the board early, it feels great.”

Kokrak also teed off on 10 and rolled in a 13-foot birdie putt at the 11th.

After a seven-foot birdie at 14 he gave himself a tap-in birdie at the par-three 17th and birdied 18. His four birdies coming in included back-to-back birdies at the eighth and ninth.

The top trio were two strokes in front of a group of six players on 64: Australian Aaron Baddeley, South Korean Kim Si-woo and Americans Vaughn Taylor, Jim Herman, Patton Kizzire and Daniel Berger.

Eighth-ranked Webb Simpson of the United States was among 13 players tied at 65.

Collin Morikawa, the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 5 in the world, posted a four-under 66 that included a double-bogey at the par-four 12th.

He responded with birdies at his next two holes.

“Bounce-backs are huge,” said the 23-year-old American, who won his first major title at the PGA Championship in August.

Defending champion Cameron Smith of Australia opened with a three-under par 67, nabbing three birdies in his first nine holes and parring all of his second nine.