HONOLULU — Jordan Spieth played about the way he expected Thursday, another sign of growing confidence in his game, as he opened with a 6-under 64 and a share of the lead at the Sony Open in Hawaii with Chris Kirk and Taylor Montgomery.
Harris English had a 65 on a gorgeous day at Waialae Country Club, with a blazing sun and just enough wind to make players think every now and then. The large group one behind also included Olympic silver medalist Rory Sabbatini of Slovakia.
S.H. Kim of South Korea was 5 under with two holes to play when the opening round was halted by darkness.
Spieth ended nearly four years without a victory when he won the Valero Texas Open in 2021, and then added another win at the RBC Heritage last year. Missing on this day was the slow swing rehearsal to ingrain the changes he made to his swing.
His key word is freedom, and it sure looked that way at Waialae. He had three birdies in a a four-hole stretch around the turn, and outside of his lone bogey on 13th hole, his only disappointment was having to settle for par on his final hole at the par-5 ninth.
K.J. Choi, making a rare PGA TOUR start age 52, was in the group at 66 that included Stewart Cink, who turns 50 in May.
Defending champion Hideki Matsuyama opened with a 68, one better than Adam Scott.
If there was a shot that stood out to Spieth, it was his drive on the 426-yard 12th hole that rolled along the dry turf and finished 83 yards away. It wasn’t so much the distance, that left him a lob wedge to 12 feet for birdie, but the swing.
“I call it `in front of fade,’ meaning just my sequence was fantastic. It was on plane. It was just exactly what I’ve been working toward,” Spieth said. “And I just hit this 5-yard fade that held the wind up the middle of the fairway.
“When I hit that shot I walked off saying, `This could be a really good day if I keep pressing how that just felt,'” he said.
And it turned out to be just that.
Waialae holds happy memories for Kirk. Two years ago, after stepping away to deal with alcoholism and depression, he had one last start on a medical extension to keep his card and shot 65 on the last day to tie for second, regaining full playing privileges.
Now he’s in a good spot, and he made eight birdies against two bogeys.
Kirk, like the majority of the first full-field tournament of the year, has not played in seven weeks since The RSM Classic at Sea Island. But he worked plenty hard in the offseason, especially on his fitness, and he has hit the ground running.
Kirk’s hard work included some fun times. He hired a new trainer, Jake Crane, who has a baseball background and Kirk said he would pitch or take swings from a pitching swing during some of the downtime.
There isn’t much of a chance for a career change. His fastball tops out at about 65 mph, though he is proud of his breaking pitch. But mostly, it’s about his condition.
“I always kind of show up to this tournament feeling good and fit,” Kirk said. “That’s my No. 1 goal this year, is to try to maintain it and work harder in the gym when I’m home in the off weeks.”
As for Montgomery, his biggest concern was the seven-week break from the fall schedule, which he played well. The Las Vegas rookie finished in the top 15 at six of his seven tournaments and didn’t seem to miss a beat.
Most concerning was the 10 days he spent without a golf club in hand while seeing family in Colorado and Nevada, which Montgomery says was his longest break ever.
“When you’re on the golf course you think about being on vacation and then when you’re on vacation I feel like I’m thinking about golf,” he said.
But his putting never left him, and he gets a fresh start Friday morning.
Michael Castillo, the Kapalua club pro who qualified for his first PGA TOUR event at age 60 while battling cancer, opened with a 79.
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Quick Reaction: Raptors 113, Kings 95 – Raptors Republic
|S. Barnes38 MIN, 7 PTS, 6 REB, 10 AST, 2 STL, 3-8 FG, 0-2 3FG, 1-2 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 22 +/-
Scottie was finding his teammates all night long, one of the stronger defensive performances from Scottie tonight as well, first game without double digit points in quite some time but he impacted the game in other ways.
|O. Anunoby31 MIN, 11 PTS, 3 REB, 2 AST, 2 STL, 4-9 FG, 3-6 3FG, 0-0 FT, 1 BLK, 1 TO, 24 +/-
Solid shooting night for OG who was able to really impact this game defensively by being a menace in the paint, did some great stuff against Sabonis.
|P. Siakam35 MIN, 26 PTS, 11 REB, 7 AST, 2 STL, 11-24 FG, 2-8 3FG, 2-2 FT, 2 BLK, 1 TO, 15 +/-
Great night for. Pascal, defense was very impactful as he mucked up a lot of Sacramento’s acts through Sabonis, he was hitting his teammates all night, cleaned up on the glass, and kept the pressure up late with his scoring.
|G. Trent Jr.36 MIN, 16 PTS, 5 REB, 3 AST, 1 STL, 7-15 FG, 2-6 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 13 +/-
Gary’s shot wasn’t all the way there tonight but he still managed to get a couple down, had some good looks in transition.
|F. VanVleet38 MIN, 17 PTS, 4 REB, 5 AST, 4 STL, 7-16 FG, 2-9 3FG, 1-1 FT, 2 BLK, 2 TO, 20 +/-
Fred didn’t shoot the ball well tonight but he still put up 17, had a game high 4 steals tonight which is a testament to his impact on that end tonight.
|P. Achiuwa28 MIN, 19 PTS, 5 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 9-12 FG, 1-3 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 3 TO, 3 +/-
Great night on both ends for Precious, really impactful defensively, had some great finishes as a roll man and see created.
|C. Boucher22 MIN, 16 PTS, 6 REB, 0 AST, 1 STL, 7-11 FG, 2-4 3FG, 0-0 FT, 3 BLK, 0 TO, -3 +/-
Great spark off the bench and made his presence felt at the rim on both ends of the floor, great energy tonight.
|J. Hernangomez12 MIN, 1 PTS, 1 REB, 1 AST, 0 STL, 0-2 FG, 0-2 3FG, 1-2 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -4 +/-
Didn’t really standout tonight.
Great game plan for Sacramento, never let Sabonis get comfortable, great minutes for Precious and Boucher.
Things We Saw
- One of, if not the strongest defensive performances from Toronto this season holding this high powered offense to 50 at halftime and 95 for the full game, really encouraging.
Russia’s path to 2024 Olympics takes shape, Ukraine objects
LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — Russia’s path to sending a team to the Paris Olympics next year became clearer on Thursday amid fierce objections from Ukraine.
The International Olympic Committee indicated on Wednesday it favors officially neutral teams from Russia and its ally Belarus at the 2024 Olympics despite a plea from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to exclude them entirely.
A day later, Russia and Belarus were invited to compete at the Asian Games, a key Olympic qualifier.
Russia typically competes as part of Europe but has a tense relationship with many of the countries set to host qualifying events there. Russia and Belarus have been barred from almost all international competitions in Olympic sports following the invasion of Ukraine.
Zelenskyy has said he told French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country is hosting the Olympics, that Russia should have “no place” there. Ukraine is seeking to rally support against the IOC-brokered plan.
“IOC has been disregarding Russian war crimes, claiming that ‘No athlete should be prevented from competing just because of their passport’, while Ukrainian athletes continue to be killed by Russia because of their passports. I urge all sports figures to make their stance known,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote on Twitter on Thursday.
Ukraine boycotted an Olympic qualifier in judo last year when Russians were allowed to compete as neutrals.
In Russia, there was praise from the IOC plan from Igor Levitin, an aide to President Vladimir Putin who holds influential government and sports posts.
“I think it is already a success. Olympic society understands that the Olympic Games cannot be staged without Russia,” said Levitin, who is the senior vice-president of the Russian Olympic Committee, in comments reported by state news agency Tass.
Some Russian officials expressed unhappiness at the IOC declaring it would not allow athletes found to be “actively supporting the war in Ukraine.” Russian Olympic Committee president Stanislav Pozdnyakov said on Wednesday he opposed “any restrictions, extra requirements or sanctions.”
The IOC statement on Wednesday referenced the civil war in the former Yugoslavia at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. The country was under United Nations sanctions so Yugoslav athletes were allowed to compete individually only as “Independent Olympic Participants.” They didn’t take part in team sports such as soccer and basketball.
That would be stricter than previous IOC measures against Russia in the years-long fallout from one of the largest doping cases in sports history. Russians competed under the name “Olympic Athlete from Russia” at the 2018 Winter Olympics and as ROC — short for Russian Olympic Committee — in 2021 and 2022, without their country’s anthem or flag but with national colors on uniforms.
The Asian Games will be in Hangzhou, China, in September and October, and function as Olympic qualifiers in several sports including archery and boxing. Some other sports host their own Asia-specific qualifying competitions.
“The OCA believes in the unifying power of sport and that all athletes, regardless of their nationality or the passport they hold, should be able to compete in sports competitions,” the OCA said in a statement.
The long-time director general of Kuwait-based OCA, Husain al-Musallam, is also the president of World Aquatics, which is overseeing the core Olympic sport of swimming in the IOC home city Lausanne.
“The OCA has offered to give eligible Russian and Belarusian athletes the opportunity to take part in competitions in Asia, including the Asian Games,” the organization said.
The OCA added it “remains on standby” until the IOC and the individual sports’ governing bodies finalize the conditions for Russia and Belarus to compete.
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