KAPALUA, Hawaii — John Rahm is starting to practice low scores on the Botanical Course in Kapalua. One can only hope that this start leads to better form in the Sentry Tournament of Champions League.
A year after finishing at 33-under and still tied for second, Rahm birdied three of the last four holes with a 9-under 64 and Thursday shared the lead with Colin Morikawa and JJ Spahn at the start of the year.
Morikawa started the back nine with six straight birdies, such a long streak on the PGA Tour. Spahn had four straight birdies on his first at Kapalua and only had one complaint.
“My toes hurt,” he said. “Even though it might play like a short course, it’s a long walk.
Cameron Smith won last year at age 34, a PGA Tour record in a week with no wind. Whether or not the week is set up for more scoring records depends on the trade win, which, like most coming to Maui, was on Thursday off.
As for whether Kapalua is owed money, Rahm wasn’t buying it.
“I can’t make a case for that on a lot of golf courses,” Rahm said. “Man, I can’t say enough. 33 I shot it from under. I won under 34. That’s all. We both played very good golf. It was a great battle. Hopefully, if we get to that point again, it’s me and I hope to end up winning one by one.
The Plantation course is in prime shape, fast without being firm because of the steep slopes that can cause shots to roll longer than they fly in the air.
Morikawa is one of 10 players who went undefeated last year and still made it to the championship game. Under the PGA Tour’s bold new high-stakes program — this week’s purse is $15 million — the Kapalua field has expanded to include anyone who has reached the Tour Championship.
The two-time major champion is determined to fix the flaws that slowed him down last year, hiring coach Stephen Sweeney and turning to former player Parker McLachlin for help with his short game.
“I have only one answer,” Morikawa said. “When I put it before, it was like a guess work. Today I may have adjusted well and then I thought I was doing something, but in reality it was something else.”
Whatever he had Thursday was working, and his 20-foot putt drop helped him see it early. And then he made those six straight birdies, only two outside 10 feet.
Tom Kim had two eagles on the 116-yard downhill sixth hole, drilling an iron to 5 feet on the par-5 15th. He was 65 years old, with one bullet in his back.
Jordan Spieth was making his top-wire act, missing 2 feet on one hole and knocking a flop shot off the neck of a bunker to save par behind the 16th green. He was wounded in 67.
Billy Horschel was the only player in the 39-man field to fall short with a 76.
Among those in the 66 are Masters champion Scotty Scheffler, who could return to world No. 1 in third place, and Tom Hoge, who has a big travel schedule.
Hoge played college golf at TCU. He got his spot in Kapalua for the first time, and will open for Sony next week in Oahu, a trip of 5,000 miles. Hoge said he will leave Maui for Los Angeles Sunday night to watch the Horned Frogs play Georgia for the national championship and then return to Honolulu.
“We haven’t won since 1938,” Hoge said. “I may never get another chance in my life.”
In the year He’s not sure what happened, but he couldn’t swing too hard.
“I’m 29 years old and the hero was like the first case with the problem I’ve ever had, so this is new for me,” said Schauffele. “That’s why I don’t know how to answer these questions. I’ve never had to. Hopefully we won’t have these conversations too often.”