Golf: Lifted by Presidents Cup outing, Chile's Niemann grabs Tournament of Champions lead

Chile's Joaquin Niemann fired seven birdies in a seven-under 66 to take a one-shot first-round lead. PHOTO: AP

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Chile's Joaquin Niemann, riding the confidence-boost of a Presidents Cup appearance, fired seven birdies in a seven-under 66 on Thursday (Jan 2) to take a one-shot first-round lead in the US PGA Tour Tournament of Champions.

The 21-year-old did not win a match in the International team's loss to the United States at Royal Melbourne last month, but he said the week was a valuable learning experience.

"I think the Presidents Cup was huge for me, for my career, for my future," Niemann said. "I think during that week I learnt a lot, I was with the best players in the world, I was teammates with Adam Scott. I talked a lot with them. It was an unbelievable week."

Niemann, whose six-shot win at The Greenbrier in September secured his spot in the winner's only Tournament of Champions, showed plenty of confidence on the par-73 Plantation course at Kapalua, Hawaii.

He rolled in a 31-foot birdie putt for his first birdie of the day at the fourth, and his remaining six birdies were all from within 11 feet.

He missed just one green in regulation, and got up and down for par to head into the second round with a one-shot lead over world No. 4 Justin Thomas.

Thomas also was bogey-free, grabbing five of his six birdies on the back nine to take sole possession of second place on 67.

Americans Matt Kuchar and Rickie Fowler shared third on 68, with defending champion Xander Schauffele heading a group of five players on 69.

Only nine players in the 34-man field were over par in Thursday's light breezes - which were expected to be replaced by gusty winds on Friday.

Despite the relatively benign conditions, it was an eventful day for two-time tournament winner Dustin Johnson.

The former world No. 1's one-under 72 included five birdies and an eagle, along with a double-bogey seven at the par-five ninth and four bogeys.

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