No. 1 Scheffler in familiar spot, leads at Sentry

KAPALUA, Hawaii — A new year, the same old Scottie Scheffler.

The world’s No. 1 player had eight birdies and an eagle Friday for a 9-under 64 at The Sentry, giving him a one-shot lead going into the weekend at the PGA Tour’s season opener.

Low scoring on the Plantation course at Kapalua has come to be expected. Even with the Kona wind out of the opposite direction, it hasn’t been strong enough to keep the 59-player field from attacking at will.

Scheffler was at 16-under 130, still only good for a one-shot lead over jet-lagged Tyrrell Hatton of England, Brendon Todd and Sungjae Im.

“It’s one of those places if you go out there and play well, you’re going to get rewarded,” Scheffler said. “If you start not hitting it in the right spots, you can get in trouble. Just got to keep the pedal down.”

That’s what Hatton did, no matter how tired he feels. He said it took him just over 25 hours to get from London to Maui, in part due to a mechanical delay on top of his three-hour layover in Los Angeles. He wasn’t feeling his best, and not just from the long flight.

And then he turned in a 62, his lowest round as a pro.

“Maybe a surprise to do it in the second round back to start the year, after how long I’ve had off,” Hatton said. “I wouldn’t say I looked after myself in the December period — maybe that played a small part. Yeah, so the body hasn’t been moving well. I’m sure if you had seen some of the flight tracers of some of my tee shots, you would be disgusted.”

He attributed the 62 to a “mad day on the greens,” and that was capped by an eagle putt from just under 100 feet from off the green at the par-5 closing hole.

Hatton had only one par (and one bogey) on the back nine.

Todd had a 30 on the front nine and a solid finish for a 64, while Im had a 66. FedEx Cup champion Viktor Hovland made an eagle putt from just over 50 feet on the closing hole for a 67 that left him two shots back in a group that featured Collin Morikawa (67), Chris Kirk (65) and Byeong Hun An (64).

An is among seven players at Kapalua who have never won on the PGA Tour. The tournament used to be only for winners from the previous year, and now is expanded to include anyone who finished among the top 50 in the FedEx Cup.

Scoring has been so good — no different from the previous two years — that Jordan Spieth had a 67 to stay within three shots of the lead, shrugged and said, “Just average.”

Indeed, the average score was 67.4 on Friday. All 59 players broke par.

Scheffler, of course, was hardly a surprise. He had one of the best statistical years on the PGA Tour last year — in the non-Tiger Woods division — which played a big part in him being voted PGA Tour player of the year for the second straight time.

He ended last year by winning against the elite, 20-man field at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas. And here on Maui, he’s holed enough birdie putts and made some 6-footers for par along the way to keep momentum.

For Scheffler and as well as he hits the ball, there is no shortage of opportunities.

“I played really solid,” he said. “The few times I got into trouble I got out pretty quick and hit some nice pitches and a couple nice putts as well.”

Hatton, Todd and Im had already set the target when Scheffler reached the scoring part of the back nine and the Texan took advantage. He holed a 15-foot birdie putt on No. 12, hit wedge up the hill to 8 feet on the 13th, drove into the bunker on the reachable 14th and blasted out to 2 feet and made it four straight birdies with a wedge he clipped perfectly to 6 feet.

The Kona wind made the 667-yard 18th play all of that, though it is downhill with a fast fairway. Scheffler hit 5-iron to the green on Thursday, and the wind caused him to hit 3-iron on Friday.

“A good 3-iron,” he said.

“It’s a ton of fun to play,” Scheffler said. “It’s definitely where everybody wants to start their year. A lot of fairways are really wide, but some of them don’t play nearly as wide as they are. You’ve got to hit good shots, shape the ball different ways and do a lot of different stuff in order to play well out here.”

DIVOTS: Todd is part of one of many players who switched caddies this year. He is using Paul Tesori, whom Cameron Young fired at the end of last year. Young now has Wayne De Hass, who caddies at Seminole Golf Club and has worked occasionally for Ernie Els on the PGA Tour Champions. … Hatton and Brian Harman are going to the Sony Open next week, and then straight from Honolulu to Dubai for a European tour event.

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