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Thursday January 27th, 2022 1:03PM

Defending champion Na with another 61 leads Sony Open

By The Associated Press
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HONOLULU (AP) — Kevin Na felt such great control Thursday in the Sony Open that he matched his career low with a 9-under 61 and still found reason to be slightly disappointed.

He had his sights on a sub-60 round, especially as the afternoon wind died, only to see three good birdie chances narrowly miss. He finished with a 6-foot par save from the bunker on the 17th hole and made a 6-foot birdie at the par-5 18th.

That gave him a one-shot lead over 51-year-old Jim Furyk, who knows what it's like to post a round in the 50s. Furyk is the only player to do that twice on the PGA Tour.

“I did everything well today and my iron play was amazing,” Na said. “And I tell you what, I had a chance for a 59. I gave it all I could. I’m a little disappointed my putts didn’t fall, some of the good putts that I hit didn’t fall. But it’s still a good round.”

It was good enough to set a target of winning back-to-back at Waialae. Na also had a 61 last year in the third round. He now has five rounds at 61 in his PGA Tour career.

This one didn't give him much breathing room. Furyk and Russell Henley were at 62, with Kevin Chappell and Seamus Power of Ireland among those at 63.

Furyk was in the hunt more than a quarter-century after he first won the Sony Open. He made a hole-in-one on the 17th hole to cap off a big run toward the end of his round.

Furyk went a decade without playing in Honolulu until returning last year once he became eligible for the 50-and-older PGA Tour Champions, which opens next week on the Big Island.

“Trying to get ready for this year and what do I look at this week? I want to be competitive,” Furyk said. “I want to compete and put myself in position, in the hunt, and also want to get a feel for where my game is and what I want to work on for the year.”

Furyk won so long ago at Waialae that it was a year before Collin Morikawa was even born. The tournament had a different title sponsor in 1996, and the perks of winning ($216,000 for first place, compared with $1.35 million this year) included a United Airlines pass for two to travel anywhere in the world for a year.

There were other reminders for Furyk.

“Played a practice round with a guy that called me ‘sir,’ and later on he asked me what I liked most about the Champions Tour,” Furyk said. “And I said, ‘No one calls me ’sir.' He said his dad would be angry with him if he didn't."

On the course, not much changed. Waialae is on the short list of PGA Tour courses that doesn't favor all-out power, and even after heavy rain a week ago, there's enough bounce and roll on shots in the fairway to make it feel even shorter.

Furyk opened with a long three-putt bogey, which did not project to what kind of day he had on the greens. He made a pair of 30-foot birdie putts early, and then finished strong with birdie putts from 12, 15 and 25 feet starting on the 14th hole, and then a 6-iron for an ace at No. 17.

Na was bogey-free, and stress-free. All seven of his birdies and his eagle on the par-5 ninth hole were inside 10 feet, and he only came seriously close to bogey on the 17th when he had to get up-and-down from a deep bunker right of the green.

Chappell also had a good start that he needed. His career has been start-and-stop since surgery on his lower back after the 2018 season. He also realized it was time to take care of more than his body.

“I definitely had some lingering stuff going last year coming from my back throughout the year, and kind of end of the year I decided I wasn’t good physically, I wasn’t good mentally and I needed to take some time,” Chappell said. "And so I did. The tour has been phenomenal with that supporting me. Really dove into the mental side and believe it or not, the better I got mentally, the better my back got.

“It’s been a lot of hard work but it’s been great.”

DIVOTS

Joshua Creel withdrew after a 72 because of a positive COVID-19 test. Creel was the first player since Hideki Matsuyama at the Rocket Mortgage Classic last July to test positive during a tournament. He also is the second player in as many tournaments this year to withdraw with a positive test. Cameron Champ withdrew from the Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua before leaving home in Houston. ... Keita Nakajima, the No. 1 amateur in the world, opened with a 67. Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama had a 66.

___

For more AP golf coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/golf and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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