2014 Sony Open Thursday tidbits: Bae (on vacay) leads by one
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour
W for Waialae

W for Waialae

Conditions were ideal on Thursday at Waialae Country Club to kick off the opening round of the Sony Open, the PGA Tour’s first full-field event of the year (not season anymore). The sun was out in full force and the wind was mostly calm. Most of the lower scores came from the morning wave, per usual — don’t worry, they switch on Friday, so the other half of the field will be able to get after it. 

Let’s see, what did you miss (or not miss)?

*Sang Moon Bae fired a career-best seven-under 63 to take a one-shot lead in the first round. Bae hit 16 of 18 greens and made “a bunch” of good putts, too.

Bae credited his fine play partly to the fact he’d gotten in extra practice because he arrived to Hawaii on December 20th.

“I had a practice round three, four times here before actually last year,” he said. ” I had a lot of practice rounds, so (I felt) comfortable…I practiced a little bit and I had fun. Go to the beach, go swim, yeah, everything. I like it here. I like Hawaii.”

Bae, who won the Byron Nelson Championship in 2013, feels the key to success at Waialae is managing the wind and strong putting.

*Chris Kirk, who was paired with Bae, caught some of the momentum after he made the turn at even par and went on to post a 29 on the back nine for a six-under 64.

“It took some catching up for me on the back nine,” said Kirk. “But it’s always nice to see putts falling and give you a good feel for it.”

Kirk, who shot a 62 in the second round of the 2013 Sony Open, has had some success at Waialae, finishing tied for fifth last year. His high draw fits the course well.

“I think it’s a good right-to-left players’ course,” he said. “I think here and Colonial are two of my favorites of the year. You have to play the ball on the ground a little bit, and you’ve got firm and fast and small greens, so you’ve got to have a good short game, too. I think all those kind of things together plays into my hands a little bit.”

Kirk turned his day around on nos. 8 and 9 with back-to-back birdies, along with a nice par save on no. 10, and got things rolling. He also had a “sweet” finish, with an eagle on no. 18 despite knocking his drive into the fairway bunker.

*Ryan Palmer posted a late five-under 65 to match Brian Stuard, who also teed off in the afternoon wave, for a share of third place in the first round.

Palmer, who captured the 2010 Sony Open, finished birdie-birdie and obviously has good vibes returning to the home of his third and last victory on the PGA Tour.

“I always think about how the whole week started, and you try to do it again,” said Palmer, referring to his win in 2010. “That’s hard, but it’s always nice to go back to where you’ve won, and I enjoy coming here. I love coming to the island and playing in this tournament. You know, I’m off to a great start, so hopefully we’ll continue.”

Palmer, who will return to fresh greens on Friday morning, thought there would be lower scores in the morning wave.

“I knew 7s and 6s (under) were out there, but I thought there would be a couple of them,” he said. “I knew it wasn’t playing all that easy, but when you get the fairways firm here, it’s probably the hardest fairways on Tour to hit, and the rough is tough to play out of. Just got to play the flier lie, I guess.”

*Seven players posted four-under 66s, including Retief Goosen, Harris English, Jimmy Walker and John Daly. Who thinks Daly will keep up this pace? It’d be nice to see one of his sponsor’s exemptions go to use, but hate to be a pessimist and say, we’ve been to this show before.

*Jason Dufner had a pep talk with Auburn University football coach Gus Malzahn after the tough loss to Florida State University in the BCS Championship game on Monday. 

“I talked to him right after the game, I’ve talked to him a couple times since,” said Dufner after he shot a three-under 67. “Just trying to be encouraging because they were pretty down about how the game ended, disappointed. It’s hard, you have such a great season, and things like that. I know all those guys and the coaches felt they were going to win that game.”

Dufner has some sage advice from personal experiences.

“Just keep stressing what a great job he’s doing, and this is just the beginning of what he has in plan for Auburn football,” he said when asked how he was encouraging Malzahn. “This is just all part of it and stuff like that. Got a lot of experience with failure out here.

“I told him to take it from a guy who loses way more than he wins. You’ll get over it and learn from it and you’ll be better because of it.”

*Adam Scott carded a solid three-under 67 with pro surfer Benji Weatherly on his bag.

The reigning Masters champion’s regular caddie Stevie Williams flew back to New Zealand after Kapalua because of a race he had scheduled when he thought Scott wasn’t playing this week.

How did Weatherly fare?

“He did great for his first time in a PGA Tour event with a pretty good bag, he did amazing today,” said Scott. “We had a lot of fun. Hopefully he did. I did, that’s for sure. It was good to have him out there.”

I’ll bet $1,000 the pair went surfing this afternoon.

*Zach Johnson opened with a 2-under 68 in his attempt to join Ernie Els (2003) as the only players to win the Sony Open in Hawaii and Hyundai Tournament of Champions back-to-back in the same season.

On Monday, Johnson became the ninth player to win each of the PGA Tour’s Hawaii events at least once, joining Jim Furyk (1996 Sony; 2001 Tournament of Champions), Jack Nicklaus (1974 Sony; 1963-64, 1971, 1973, 1977 Tournament of Champions); Lee Trevino (1968 Sony; 1981 Tournament of Champions); Lanny Wadkins (1988, 1991 Sony Open, 1982-83 Tournament of Champions); Paul Azinger (1991 Sony; 1990 Tournament of Champions); Mark O’Meara (1985 Sony; 1996 Tournament of Champions); Ernie Els (2003-04 Sony; 2003 Tournament of Champions); Vijay Singh (2005 Sony; 2007 Tournament of Champions).

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