Kirk, playing partner Bae atop Sony Open
by Doug Ferguson
Associated Press Sports Writer
January 10, 2014 12:52 AM | 850 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Chris Kirk, a former Georgia star and Etowah High School product, shot a back-nine 29, helping him keep pace with playing partner Sang-Moon Bae at the Sony Open.
<BR>Associated Press photo
Chris Kirk, a former Georgia star and Etowah High School product, shot a back-nine 29, helping him keep pace with playing partner Sang-Moon Bae at the Sony Open.
Associated Press photo
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HONOLULU — Sang-Moon Bae got off to a great start in pristine conditions along the shores of Oahu. Chris Kirk had an ideal finish.

They were together all Thursday morning, playing in the same group at the Sony Open and taking the top two spots on the leaderboard after the opening round at Waialae Country Club.

Bae played bogey-free of a 7-under 63. Kirk shot 29 on the back nine at Waialae, including an eagle on the last hole, for a 64.

Ryan Palmer, coming off a week vacation in Maui, birdied the last two holes for a 65. Brian Stuard made eight birdies in his round of 65. Those were the best scores in the afternoon, when a full day of sunshine made the course play faster.

Bae and Kirk provided plenty of excitement in one group. They had a better-ball score of 56. There were only five holes where both of them had to settle for par.

“He was off to a great start,” Kirk said. “At one point he was 4-under and I was still 2-over. It took some catching up for me on the back nine. But it’s always nice to see putts falling.”

Retief Goosen, finally feeling better after missing another big chunk of the year with back problems, slept awkwardly on his neck and was sore during the pro-am. That apparently healed quickly. He was in the group at 66 with Harris English, Jimmy Walker and John Daly.

Kapalua winner Zach Johnson opened with two bogeys before he settled into a 68. Jordan Spieth, who finished one shot behind Johnson last week in the Tournament of Champions, reached 3-under through 10 holes until he was slowed by a three-putt bogey from 20 feet on No. 12. That was the start of three bogeys in four holes, and the 20-year-old Texan had to settle for a 70.

There are not two courses 100 miles apart in the same state on consecutive weeks on the PGA Tour any more different.

Kapalua was built on the side of a mountain, with severe grain in the greens and massive changes in elevation. Waialae is flat, tight and tree-lined with small greens.

“I think I played well last week, but really tough greens,” Bae said. “Very hard to read. I couldn’t read any right-to-left putts — any putts — so I missed a lot of puts last week. But this course is more shorter than last week, so easy read, and I can make good speed, too.”

Bae opened with a 7-iron to 3 feet on the opening hole, made a 25-footer for birdie on No. 3 and didn’t miss a green until the 13th hole. He hit wedge to 15 feet to save par, and picked up his seventh and final birdie on the next hole.

Kirk had reason to believe this wasn’t going to be his day when his ball got stuck in a tree on the sixth hole and he had to scramble for bogey, already 2 over. But a shot into tap-in range on the eighth hole sent him on his way, and an eagle brought him within one shot of Bae after the opening round.

Palmer won the Sony Open four years ago. He spent the last month working on his upper-body fitness, and then took a big vacation. He took his family to Disneyland, followed by a week on Maui before it was time to get to work.

“I need to play good to pay for the trip,” he said.

He was at his best on two of the toughest par 3s, hitting 6-iron to 2 feet on No. 4 and a 7-iron to pin-high on the 17th and making an 18-foot birdie putt.

Masters champion Adam Scott, with pro surfer Benji Weatherley filling in as his caddie, birdied his last two holes for a 67. It’s not a bad start, but in these conditions, Scott realizes it needs to be better.

Daly can only hope this isn’t just a false start. He had surgery on his elbow last summer, and hopes that his injuries are behind him. He made five birdies for a 66.

Bae, who won his first PGA Tour event last year at the Byron Nelson Championship, is coming up on three straight weeks in Hawaii. It was too cold in South Korea to practice, so he came to the islands on Dec. 20 to practice and relax on the beach for two weeks before the Tournament of Champions.

He played Waialae about three or four times, and feels like he knows the course better.

“I practiced a little bit and I had fun,” he said. “Go to beach, go swim, everything. I like it here.”

DIVOTS: Shawn Stefani was the first alternate but chose not to come across the ocean with no guarantee of getting in. Just his luck, Hideki Matsuyama withdrew with a wrist injury on Wednesday. He was replaced by Robert Streb, who earlier in the week missed out on Monday qualifying. ... Daly said he expects to play with Kid Rock at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. ... The course played to an average score of 69.97.

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