Kapalua rookies off to good start

KAPALUA – Jordan Spieth and Michael Thompson sure didn’t look like newcomers.

Spieth and Thompson, who were among 13 golfers to make their debuts at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions on Friday, finished the first round as part of a four-way tie for the lead with Chris Kirk and Webb Simpson after rounds of 7-under-par 66.

Seven of the players making their Kapalua Plantation Course debuts finished no worse than tied for 11th after the first 18 holes.

“It’s one of those courses where there’s a few holes that are narrow but other than that, it’s very wide off the tee and the greens are big,” Spieth said. “It’s not something that you have to have, I don’t think, a ton of knowledge on.”

The 20-year-old PGA Tour Rookie of the Year carded seven birdies and no bogeys.

Thompson’s round included eight birdies and a bogey.

“It’s really just staying patient and you’re going to give yourself a lot of opportunities,” Thompson said. “There’s a lot of wedges in your hand and (the grass is) playing so soft, so you don’t really have to worry about the ball kind of getting away from you. You can really be aggressive off the tee.”

He displayed that approach on the 17th hole.

“I had 250 (yards) to the front, and hit probably the best 3-wood of my life to about four feet and made the putt for birdie,” Thompson said. “If there was a skins game today, I think I would win that one.”

Kevin Streelman, also playing his first competitive round at Kapalua, was tied for fifth, one shot back. Sang-Moon Bae was 10th at 4 under, and Ken Duke, Patrick Reed and Harris English were 3 under.

The 44-year-old Duke punched his ticket to Kapalua by winning the Travelers Championship last year. He said the Maui course had “perfect conditions” and helped the field of 30 golfers shoot low scores.

“The wind is the issue,” he said. “It’s not tough if there’s no wind because you got short par 5s and the fairways are wide and when the greens roll good, guys out here are going to shoot good numbers.”

English recorded five birdies on the back nine.

“When I was coming over here, I heard about how firm and fast it played and that’s what I was expecting,” he said. “But it hasn’t and you’ve just got to take what the weather gives you.”

Although English has competed in the Sony Open on Oahu for the past two years, he is visiting the Valley Isle for the first time, as are his parents.

“I kind of came late on (Wednesday) so I didn’t get to experience everything, but I like how relaxed it is here,” he said.

Jimmy Walker was at even par after a round with five birdies, three bogeys and a double bogey.

“I didn’t play great today,” he said. “The golf course was out there and it was fine and in good shape and the greens rolled good, I just didn’t play real well. But three more days and I’ll try to get some good ones.”

Regardless of their starts, the newcomers will have to temper their extracurricular activities on the island.

“It’s tough,” Spieth said. “I’ve been done in the afternoons and out in the water and kind of enjoying myself. It’s almost like a vacation tournament.”

English is planning some beach activity, as well, though, he said he is aware of Maui’s recent shark attacks.

“I see some whales jumping out here but I haven’t really thought about going out there and getting a shark bite,” he said, adding that he’ll find his way to the water – “if it’s not too cold.”

* Chris Sugidono is at csugidono@mauinews.com