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
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:
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:
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:
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:
"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:
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:
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.