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Tournament of Champions 2020: Joaquin Niemann Leads Justin Thomas After Round 1

Megan ArmstrongAnalyst IIIJanuary 3, 2020

KAPALUA, HAWAII - JANUARY 02: Joaquin Niemann of Chile plays his shot from the first tee during the first round of the Sentry Tournament Of Champions at the Kapalua Plantation Course on January 02, 2020 in Kapalua, Hawaii. (Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)
Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images

The 2020 golf season opened on Thursday when the Sentry Tournament of Champions teed off at The Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort in Kapalua, Hawaii.  

First-timer Joaquin Niemann finished Day 1 with the lead at seven under par. The 21-year-old Chilean joined the PGA Tour in 2019, and his lone win on tour so far came in the A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier.

With that victory, according to the PGA Tour's official website, he "became the first player from Chile to win on the PGA Tour and joins Seve Ballesteros and Rory McIlroy as the only players born outside the United States to win on tour before turning 21 in the last 95 years."

He also qualified for the Tournament of Champions, where he sunk seven birdies in his debut round. It's far from a wrap for Niemann to claim the title, though, as Justin Thomas recorded five birdies on the back nine to move into second place at six under. Eight players are within three strokes.

PGA TOUR @PGATOUR

The leader by two. @JoacoNiemann adds another birdie at the 15th. #QuickHits https://t.co/a4EnbfsIzN

PGA TOUR @PGATOUR

A closing birdie. 🐦 @JoacoNiemann increases his @Sentry_TOC lead to 3 shots and finishes with an opening-round 6⃣6⃣. https://t.co/RkvOhzMTa2

The event annually marks the start of a new golf year. There are 34 competitors this time, each one required to have won a PGA Tour event in 2018 or 2019:

PGA TOUR Communications @PGATOURComms

The last three winners of the Sentry Tournament of Champions went on to finish the season in the top five of the FedExCup standings 2019 Xander Schauffele (2nd) 2018 Dustin Johnson (4th) 2017 Justin Thomas (1st)

Reigning PGA Championship winner Brooks Koepka and 2019 Masters champion Tiger Woods, as well as Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and Justin Rose, opted to skip the Tournament of Champions.

Even without them, the field is impressive:

PGA TOUR @PGATOUR

No shortage of accolades in the @Sentry_TOC field. 👏 https://t.co/1kHuOkLHnM

Ron Mintz @MintzGolf

15 first-time winners making their debut at the @Sentry_TOC : Corey Conners, Tyler Duncan, Dylan Frittelli, Lanto Griffin, Max Homa, Sung Kang, Nate Lashley, Adam Long, Keith Mitchell, Collin Morikawa, Sebastian Munoz, Joaquin Niemann, J.T. Poston, Martin Trainer, Matthew Wolff

Below is a rundown of Thursday's opening round. 

Thursday's Leaderboard

1. Joaquin Niemann (-7)

2. Justin Thomas (-6)

T3. Matt Kuchar (-5)

T3. Rickie Fowler (-5)

T5. Tyler Duncan (-4)

T5. Matthew Wolff (-4)

T5. Patrick Cantlay (-4)

T5. Jon Rahm (-4)

T5. Xander Schauffele (-4)

10. J.T. Poston (-3)

View the full leaderboard at PGATour.com

Schauffele, the tournament's reigning champion, used four birdies to put himself in a decent position for a repeat.

PGA TOUR @PGATOUR

Looking to go back-to-back in Maui. @XSchauffele prepares for round 1 of the @Sentry_TOC. https://t.co/sksejNU0so

The 26-year-old American would be the first back-to-back champion since 2011 and the last two-time winner since Dustin Johnson (2013 and 2018).

Johnson did not fare nearly as well. His impressive eagle and five birdies were negated by one double bogey and four bogeys, and he is tied for 16th at one under moving into the second round. The 35-year-old claimed the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship while finishing second at both the PGA Championship and Masters in 2019. 

Johnson was asked prior to Thursday's first round if he's surprised by his career win total, which includes 20 victories on the PGA Tour and is highlighted by his success at the 2016 U.S. Open. 

"Surprised? No," he responded, per Golfworld's Joel Beall. "But should I have won more? I think so."

The Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort has been kind to Johnson in the past and could serve as a fitting place to jumpstart a better 2020 for him, but he has a long way to go over the weekend. 

For now, the more favorable outcome appears to be Niemann becoming the youngest Tournament of Champions winner since Tiger Woods in 1997 or Thomas clinching his second win in four years.

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