HONOLULU (AP) Webb Simpson was so determined to switch to a conventional putting style that he broke his belly putter over his knee so he could never use it again. He might be the most surprised of anyone to be tied for the lead Friday in the Sony Open.
With expectations next to nil from using a regular putter for the first time in 10 years, Simpson ran off three birdies over the last five holes for a 4-under 66 to share the lead with Matt Kuchar and PGA Tour rookie Justin Thomas.
Kuchar, playing alongside Simpson, had a 63.
The big surprise was Thomas, the 21-year-old son of a club pro in Kentucky – not because of his age, or because it’s his first time to Waialae, but the way he finished. Thomas figured he couldn’t catch Kuchar and Simpson, so he tried to at least get a little closer to them. He hit 8-iron to 12 feet for birdie, hit a wedge to 6 feet for birdie on the next hole, and then pounded a tee shot on the par-5 ninth and had only a 9-iron to the green. He hit that to 18 feet and made the putt for eagle.
That gave him a 61 – one off the course record Davis Love III set in 1994, about 10 months after Thomas was born.
It sets up for a dynamic weekend at Waialae.
At the top at 12-under 128 were Simpson and Kuchar, who were Ryder Cup teammates last fall, joined by Thomas, one of the promising rookies on tour.
They were two shots clear of Tim Clark (65) and Troy Merritt (64). Defending champion Jimmy Walker had a 66 for his 15th consecutive round in the 60s in Hawaii. That put him in a group four shots behind, very much in the picture on a course where the leaders tend to be bunched up until the back nine on Sunday.
ABU DHABI HSBC GOLF CHAMPIONSHIP
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Rory McIlroy made his first competitive hole-in-one as a professional and shot a 6-under 66 to move into third place in the Abu Dhabi Championship, two strokes behind second-round leader Martin Kaymer.
The top-ranked McIlroy threw his hands in the air and high-fived playing partner Rickie Fowler after his 9-iron from 177 yards on the 15th hole landed a yard from the hole, hopped right and trickled in.
Kaymer the U.S. Open champion who won the Abu Dhabi event in 2008, 2010 and 2011, had a 67 to reach 13 under. Belgium’s Thomas Pieters was second after a 67. Fowler was tied for 56th at 2 under after a 75.