Golf: Trio of one-time PGA Tour winners share first-round lead at Sony Open in Hawaii

(Clockwise from left) Chile's Joaquin Niemann and Americans Peter Malnati and Jason Kokrak at the Waialae Country Club, on Jan 14, 2021, in Honolulu. PHOTOS: AFP

(REUTERS) - Chile's Joaquin Niemann chipped in for an eagle on the 18th hole on Thursday (Jan 14) to grab a share of the first-round lead at the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Niemann and Americans Peter Malnati and Jason Kokrak each shot eight-under 62 at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu.

Americans Vaughn Taylor, Jim Herman, Patton Kizzire, Daniel Berger, Australia's Aaron Baddeley and South Korea's Kim Si-woo Kim share fourth place at six under.

Niemann produced five birdies in a six-hole stretch in the middle of his round. Following his lone bogey at No. 12, he added two more birdies before his 50-yard chip shot from just off the green was on target to end his round.

"It was a good way to finish," he said. "Just happy the way I played. Nice chip-in to finish and will help me sleep for tomorrow.

"I hit the ball great off the tee. Hit my irons really close and made a lot of good putts. I think the only little mistake I had was on No. 12 that I just, I don't know what happened, just hit a really firm putt and I just three-putted there. Other than that it was a pretty good day."

The 22-year-old is in search of his second PGA Tour victory, having won A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier in 2019. He has competed in just two Major tournaments, tying for 71st in the 2018 PGA Championship and sharing 23rd spot in the 2020 US Open.

Malnati produced five birdies and a bogey on the back nine, which he played first, then added four birdies on the front nine, closing with a five-foot birdie at the ninth.

The 33-year-old also has just one career PGA Tour triumph, at the 2015 Sanderson Farms Championship.

Malnati said of the Waialae layout: "I just really, really enjoy it. You have to control the ball a little bit more off the tee, which hitting fairways hasn't necessarily been my strong suit lately, but control off the tee has always been, so I think it really does suit me well."

Kokrak completed a bogey-free round, closing with consecutive birdies at Nos. 8 and 9.

The 35-year-old is another one-time PGA Tour victor, with his win coming last October in the CJ Cup at Shadow Creek.

Defending champion Cameron Smith of Australia is tied for 40th at three under, having recorded pars on each of his last nine holes.

Pebble Beach scraps Pro-Am format

Earlier on Thursday, the PGA Tour announced that The Pebble Beach Pro-Am will be played next month without the traditional pro-am part of the tournament.

The decision was made because of the spike of coronavirus cases within California. It already had been announced that the Feb 11-14 tournament would be played without spectators on the course.

"This was a very difficult decision, but the right one given the recent surge in Covid-19 cases," said Bill Perocchi, chief executive officer of the Pebble Beach Co. "Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have put the health and safety of our guests, employees and community first."

The multi-day pro-am is an annual highlight of the Pebble Beach stop and has featured athletes, entertainers, politicians and other celebrities through the years.

The 2020 event included Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks Peyton Manning, Eli Manning and Aaron Rodgers; actors Ray Romano and Bill Murray; ice hockey great Wayne Gretzky; and Condoleezza Rice, former US secretary of state.

Past competitors included entertainer Bob Hope, presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood and baseball legend Joe DiMaggio.

"The AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am's line-up of celebrities competing with the PGA Tour's best players with the Monterey Peninsula as the backdrop has been a perfect marriage of sports and entertainment since 1947," said Tyler Dennis, president of the PGA Tour.

"We feel strongly this decision, while difficult, was the right call to make given the current environment.

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