LOS ANGELES • Red-hot Justin Thomas began and ended with eagles to fire a sizzling 11-under 59 and seize the lead after the opening round of the Sony Open in Hawaii on Thursday.
The 23-year-old long-hitter took advantage of ideal scoring conditions at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu as he became the seventh, and youngest, player to break 60 on the PGA Tour.
"It was obviously a fun day," said Thomas, who finished the day with a three-shot lead over fellow American Hudson Swafford, who had nine birdies in an eight-under 62.
South Africa's Rory Sabbatini had six birdies and an eagle in his seven-under 63.
Scotland's Russell Knox and Australian Cameron Smith were among eight players sharing fourth on 64.
"I just kind of had it rolling out there," Thomas said.
JUSTIN THOMAS' ROUND OF 59
TO PAR -11
LONGEST PUTT MADE (NO. 1) 16 FT
"All my birdies were easy - it wasn't like I made any long putts or anything."
But he was not blind to the significance of the number.
"We all know it's the magical number in golf," he said.
Most recently, Jim Furyk carded a record 58 at the Travelers Championship in Connecticut in August.
The American also has a 59 on his Tour resume, as do compatriots Al Geiberger, Chip Beck, David Duval, Paul Goydos, and Australian Stuart Appleby.
Thomas had opened his round with an eagle at the 10th, where he hit his tee shot 315 yards and holed out from 34 yards out in the fairway for a two.
He had eight more birdies and a bogey on the day, and kept his form going with a nine-foot par-saving putt at the par-four eighth.
"That save on eight was huge," Thomas said. "It gave me a chance because I knew if I hit a good drive on nine I was going to have a seven- or eight-iron in."
But his drive at the par-five ninth found the bunker.
"I missed it by six inches of carrying the bunker," added Thomas, who first thought he would have to just hit a wedge out, but with a perfect lie went with a five-iron and got it to the green.
"I got a good read and it just hung on there enough to go in."
Playing partners Jordan Spieth and Daniel Berger looked almost more excited than Thomas when the putt dropped.
Thomas, whose third PGA Tour victory at the Tournament of Champions on Sunday lifted him to a career-high 12th in the world, said the moment felt a little odd.
"It's not like winning the tournament you know," he said. "It's like, hey, unbelievable round - you have three days left still. So I didn't really know how to react."
Spieth, a friend and former junior and college rival of Thomas', opened with a 65 and was happy to have a ringside seat to his buddy's stellar performance.
"I'm just really, really happy for JT right now," said the former world No. 1 and two-time Major champion. "It's history, it's awesome, it's really cool... to be able to watch it."
In the first round of the South African Open which also started on Thursday, world No. 2 Rory McIlroy marvelled at his long hitting off the tee after producing a five-under 67 to finish one shot behind leaders Trevor Fisher Junior and Keith Horne.
McIlroy carded seven birdies and two bogies at the Glendower Golf Club. It was his first European Tour event of the year - honouring a promise to tournament host Ernie Els to play in the second-oldest national open in the world.
"I didn't realise how far the ball went here," he told reporters.
"It's a long golf course but when it heats up like this, the ball goes a long way. You really have to think your way around. It's a great golf course.
"I gave myself plenty of chances and probably missed a few. I played well. It was a bit adventurous on the back nine, I scrambled a good bit and did my bit to try and salvage a few holes."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Day 2: StarHub Ch204, 8am
SOUTH AFRICAN OPEN
Day 3: Ch204, 6pm