KAPALUA, Hawaii — Chris Kirk two-putted for birdie from simply in need of the 18th inexperienced at Kapalua on Saturday, giving him a 7-under 66 for a one-shot lead in The Sentry and hardly any room for error going into the ultimate spherical of the PGA Tour’s season opener.
Low scoring has change into the norm on the Plantation course at Kapalua, even with stronger commerce wind. Totally different about this 12 months is the variety of gamers with an opportunity.
And it nonetheless consists of Scottie Scheffler, the world’s No. 1 participant, who did not see many putts go within the gap and needed to accept a 71. Scheffler was nonetheless solely three behind.
Kirk was at 21-under 198 in his first time again at Kapalua in eight years. He was the PGA Tour’s comeback participant of the 12 months in 2023 from successful the Honda Basic after having stepped away for a giant a part of 2019 to take care of alcoholism and despair.
He begins the brand new 12 months with what seems like a dash on the aspect of a mountain.
“You definitely cannot defend something out right here, that is for certain,” Kirk stated. “When it is a shootout like this and the scores are actually low, you simply keep aggressive and simply go do your factor.”
Bhatia, who secured his PGA Tour card via the minor leagues after which received the Barracuda Championship, took solely 27 putts for the second straight day. His solely lapse was three-putting from 60 ft for par on the 667-yard closing gap for a 66.
The group two pictures behind included Schauffele (65), who closed with a 62 5 years in the past to rally for victory at Kapalua; and Spieth (67), who received by eight pictures at Kapalua in 2016. They have been joined by Byeong Hun An (68).
Schauffele and Spieth know the drill. Most leads should not protected it doesn’t matter what the rating exhibits, notably due to a dynamic closing stretch of par 5s and a reachable par 4.
“Positively maintain your head down,” Schauffele stated. “There’s actually no level a leaderboard early on a property like this.”
Spieth made birdie from a bunker some 40 yards in need of the flag on the reachable 14th, one of the vital troublesome pictures in golf, and closed with a 6-iron into the inexperienced for a two-putt birdie.
He first got here to Kapalua a decade in the past and understands the move of scoring. The trick is to keep away from bogeys on the harder holes and attempt to decide up a number of birdies earlier than the motion begins on the reachable par-4 14th.
“Then impulsively it is a dash and also you see who makes 4 out of the final 5,” he stated. “That appears to be the case and it in all probability would be the case tomorrow.”
That was Kirk’s plan Saturday with one wrinkle. The totally different wind fooled him on his tee shot down the par-5 fifteenth, and he performed it too far to the precise and into the weeds. He took a penalty drop, needed to lay up in need of the elevated inexperienced after which hit wedge just a little too robust, onto the perimeter going through a putt downwind, barely downhill and with the wind at his again.
He holed the putt for a par, ending his streak of three straight birdies and but nonetheless feeling that he had the wind in his sails.
“To make that one after a pleasant run of birdies earlier than that positively saved the momentum going,” Kirk stated.
Scheffler by no means had a lot momentum in any respect. He made his first birdie on the par-5 fifth, the simplest gap at Kapalua. However he had a three-putt bogey on No. 7, and hit right into a bunker under the inexperienced on the par-3 eighth that led to a different bogey.
Scheffler completed with a three-putt par on the 18th from just below 40 ft. The upside was being solely three pictures out of the lead, together with Harris English (64), Jason Day (67) and Sahith Theegala (68).
Throw in Patrick Cantlay and Collin Morikawa, and 12 gamers have been inside 4 pictures of the lead. That was totally different from final 12 months, when Morikawa took a six-shot lead into the ultimate spherical solely to be caught by Jon Rahm; the 12 months earlier than, Rahm and Cameron Smith shared the 54-hole lead and have been 5 away from everybody else.
Now it is anybody’s recreation Sunday.
“The again 9, something can occur,” English stated. “I keep in mind getting off to a tricky begin the ultimate spherical of that 2021 12 months and acquired it occurring the again 9 and performed rather well coming down the stretch. I feel having a few of that endurance will assist tomorrow.”