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Tournament of Champions 2021: Justin Thomas Among Co-Leaders After Round 1

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistJanuary 8, 2021

Justin Thomas hits from the 12th fairway during a practice round prior to the Tournament of Champions golf event, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, at Kapalua Plantation Course in Kapalua, Hawaii. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Matt York/Associated Press

The PGA Tour is back to begin 2021, and Justin Thomas is ready to defend his title at the Tournament of Champions.

Thomas and Harris English are tied for the early lead through Round 1 on Thursday.

The 42-person field is usually reserved for winners of events from the previous year, but this week it was expanded to include anyone who qualified for the Tour Championship last season. It still leaves a star-studded group of some of the top competitors in the world.

Thomas and English have been the best of all of them so far after each shot a 65 in the first round at the Plantation Course at Kapalua in Maui, Hawaii.

Though Thomas could be difficult to beat after winning this event in 2017 and 2020, Sergio Garcia, Patrick Cantlay and more remain in striking distance with three rounds to go in the prestigious event.

      

Round 1 Leaderboard

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T1. Harris English (-8)

T1. Justin Thomas (-8)

T3. Robert Streb (-6)

T3. Sergio Garcia (-6)

T3. Nick Taylor (-6)

T3. Ryan Palmer (-6)

T3. Sungjae Im (-6)

T3. Patrick Reed (-6)

T9. Adam Scott (-5)

T9. Patrick Cantlay (-5)

T9. Brendon Todd (-5) 

Full leaderboard and statistics available at PGATour.com.

      

Thomas knows how to win this event, and this was another strong performance in a bogey-free day:

Justin Ray @JustinRayGolf

Most birdies/eagles per round, PGA Tour events in Hawaii since 2017: Justin Thomas, 5.68 (made 8 today) Jordan Spieth, 5.50 Cameron Smith, 5.14 Dustin Johnson, 5.12

He gained 2.471 strokes on the green as part of an incredible opening effort in Hawaii.

Meanwhile, English has made it a habit of getting off to a hot start at tournaments, and this event was no different:

Jason Sobel @JasonSobelTAN

Harris English ranked second on the PGA Tour in R1 scoring average last season. He’s broken 70 in nine of his last 12 openers. Scoring average is 68.25 in those rounds. And he just posted an 8-under 65 to grab the current lead.

The 31-year-old had seven birdies, including four on the back nine, although it was his eagle on the No. 9 hole that really helped his score.

Although English wasn't the longest hitter on the course, his accuracy was unbelievable:

Justin Ray @JustinRayGolf

Harris English is the only player in the field to hit all 15 fairways today at Kapalua. All-time at The Plantation Course, about 2.2% of all rounds yielded a perfect fairway hit percentage.

He finished the round with 15 greens in regulation and was effective on the green, giving him an advantage over the rest of the field.

If he can keep it going, English will be difficult to beat in this event.

Of course, there are a lot of ways to succeed on this course. Sergio Garcia didn't have the prettiest round but was still able to stay within two strokes of the lead:

Sentry Tournament of Champions @Sentry_TOC

+2 thru 3. 8-under in his last 15 holes. Tied for the clubhouse lead. Welcome back, Sergio. https://t.co/YCEfQwhW42

Justin Ray @JustinRayGolf

224 (and counting) scores of 67 or lower at Kapalua the last 15 years. Sergio Garcia today is just the fourth to shoot a score that low while losing more than a stroke on the greens. -1.03 SG putting today; gained nearly 4 full strokes tee-to-green.

"Obviously a little nervy early on, I guess, a couple missed shots and a couple missed putts," Garcia said after the round, per Mercer Baggs of Golf Channel. "But the chip-in for eagle on [No.] 5 definitely settled me down a little bit and I started hitting it, trusting myself a little bit more, hitting a lot of good shots, hitting a lot of good putts and making a few in there."

Bryson DeChambeau had his long ball working in this one, but it didn't always lead to success:

Justin Ray @JustinRayGolf

Todd beat DeChambeau by a stroke.

DeChambeau shot 69 with an average drive of 299.7 yards, while Brendon Todd averaged only 239.8 yards per drive on his way to a 68.

Carlos Ortiz was among the surprise strong performers in Round 1 with a four-under score of 69:

Carlos Ortiz @carlosortizGolf

Making my very first start at the @Sentry_TOC! -4 today 👌🏻 https://t.co/OhHtMTM624

The 29-year-old won the Vivint Houston Open in November and is seemingly not intimidated by the field.

Nick Taylor is also a surprise early competitor with his six under after Thursday. Taylor finished last year No. 170 in the FedEx Cup rankings, the second-lowest of all entries this week, but he qualified thanks to his win at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am almost a year ago.

He is still showing he belongs in the early going.

Dustin Johnson is surprisingly on the other end of the spectrum, sitting tied for 30th after shooting 71 in the first round. The No. 1 golfer in the world rankings won the Masters but is off to a slow start in his first event in about two months.

There is still plenty of time to turn things around in the final three rounds from Hawaii.

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