Tway fires 66 to take early lead

Defending champion Johnson, Woodland, Thomas one shot back

Kevin Tway follows the flight of his drive off the Kapalua Plantation Course’s first hole during the first round of the Sentry Tournament of Champions on Thursday morning. Tway had seven birdies and no bogeys for a 7-under 66 and a one-stroke lead. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

KAPALUA — Kevin Tway didn’t feel well, but he used his experience at the Kapalua Plantation Course to walk away with the lead after the first round of the Sentry Tournament of Champions on Thursday.

Tway battled an illness all day long, but still shot a bogey-free 7-under-par 66.

“Yeah, I played good,” Tway said in an abbreviated press conference. “Not feeling well, but yeah, I hit the ball well, kept the ball in play, made a few putts, controlled my ball in the wind. It’s windy where I’m from in Oklahoma, so it’s kind of like I was at home.”

Gary Woodland was tied for second at 67 with Justin Thomas, the 2017 winner here who birdied five of the final seven holes, and defending champion Dustin Johnson.

Woodland played by himself after playing partner Kevin Na withdrew with a finger injury just before their 11:20 a.m. tee time.

Justin Thomas, the 2017 Tournament of Champions winner, responds to the cheers after making birdie on No. 18.

“If you’re ever going to do it this is not a bad place to do it,” Woodland said. “Obviously, the walk is huge, so we slowed down. The pace of play was actually pretty nice. We didn’t wait very much knowing that we needed to slow down.”

Thomas said the windy conditions were tough to deal with, especially on the greens.

“It was just the wind,” Thomas said. “It was so difficult to make putts in this. … You’re playing for the wind and the wind stops and you can look stupid pretty quickly.”

Johnson shot 24-under 268 last year to win by eight strokes.

“I played well today, I drove it good,” Johnson said. “If I drive it well I feel like I can play the golf course well. Today was a good day, definitely I left a couple shots out there, but first round of the year, I’m pretty pleased with it.”

Defending champion Dustin Johnson chips on the 18th green to set up a short birdie putt Thursday.

Marc Leishman is fifth at 68, while six players shot 69, including Rory McIlroy and Jason Day.

World No. 1 Brooks Koepka is in a tie for 30th after a 76, but 21 of the 33 golfers who played Thursday broke par.

Day shot 33 on the back nine, but agreed the wind was toughest on the greens.

“The whole day was tough, but just on the greens was just really tough,” Day said. “On the last hole I had an 8-foot, 7-inch putt for birdie and left it like a foot and a half short. It was just only because of when I hit the putt a massive gust of breeze came.”

McIlroy, the No. 8-ranked golfer in the world and four-time major winner, is making his debut here. He birdied three of the last four holes.

Gary Woodland walks off the 14th green after making par.

“Yeah, it was nice, nice way to start the tournament,” McIlroy said. “I needed that finish. I was giving myself plenty of chances. I mean, it’s breezy out there, the conditions are tough. I think the scoring for the conditions are very, very good. Obviously, this is the way the wind usually blows here, so the guys sort of know how to deal with it. But I think anything in the 60s today was a good start.”

It looked like Tway was at home the entire round. He is one of eight first-timers here, but he had experience of playing the Plantation for a week when, as a 15-year-old, he was here with his father, Bob Tway, who finished tied for 28th in the 2004 winners-only event.

“Yeah, it’s weird, we came a week early and I played with dad the whole week before, but on one hole dad took a huge divot and a centipede had come up from the ground and he went to flick it away and it stung him and his finger swelled up to the size of a golf club grip, so he couldn’t play that entire (practice) week,” Kevin Tway said. “So he just watched me play the course. And then it got better by the time the tournament started and then we went home. So he was just kind of watching me play for his preparation.”

Kevin Tway did not watch his father play the 2004 tournament because he had to return home to go back to school. Like his father 15 years ago, Kevin Tway ran into a physical challenge here this week.

“I played a few holes in the pro-am yesterday and then hole 5 it kind of felt like I was walking on a water bed the whole hole, and so I withdrew from the pro-am, went to the doctor,” he said. “I had an ear infection and sinus infection. So got some pills and feel a little bit better today, but still a little dizzy.”

Jason Day acknowledges the crowd on the first tee.

Tway shot 5-under 31 on the front nine before adding birdies on 15 and 16 in the second pairing of the day.

“It’s so windy that experience probably helps a little bit, but you just got to control your ball in the wind,” Tway said. “Each shot’s difficult so you’re just focused on the trajectory and where I need to land it and where I need to miss it. So just first time, I’m just focusing on that to be honest.”

There was no way Tway was going to consider pulling out of the event, if he could help it.

“Oh, I was going to try to play no matter what,” he said. “I mean, I can deal with a little bit of dizziness for sure. We’re in Hawaii and no cut, so I mean, I’m going to try as long as I can.”

He admitted he even surprised himself.

Marc Leishman chips to the 14th green.

“When you’re making a lot of birdies it makes everything better,” he said. “I was just trying to drink a lot of water. But, yeah, I didn’t think I was going to play that good, to be honest.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

PGA Sentry Tournament of Champions

Thursday’s First Round

At Kapalua Plantation Course

Kevin Tway 31-35–66 -7

Gary Woodland 34-33–67 -6

Justin Thomas 35-32–67 -6

Dustin Johnson 33-34–67 -6

Marc Leishman 34-34–68 -5

Andrew Putnam 33-36–69 -4

Andrew Landry 36-33–69 -4

Patton Kizzire 33-36–69 -4

Jason Day 36-33–69 -4

Rory McIlroy 35-34–69 -4

Bryson DeChambeau 35-34–69 -4

Patrick Reed 35-35–70 -3

Jon Rahm 36-34–70 -3

Bubba Watson 36-34–70 -3

Webb Simpson 32-38–70 -3

Cameron Champ 36-35–71 -2

Michael Kim 38-33–71 -2

Ian Poulter 36-35–71 -2

Matt Kuchar 37-35–72 -1

Xander Schauffele 35-37–72 -1

Billy Horschel 35-37–72 -1

Troy Merritt 35-38–73 E

Brice Garnett 36-37–73 E

Paul Casey 36-37–73 E

Francesco Molinari 36-37–73 E

Charles Howell III 36-38–74 +1

Aaron Wise 35-39–74 +1

Ted Potter, Jr. 36-39–75 +2

Brandt Snedeker 36-39–75 +2

Scott Piercy 37-39–76 +3

Brooks Koepka 39-37–76 +3

Satoshi Kodaira 39-38–77 +4

Keegan Bradley 39-38–77 +4

Kevin Na WD

Today’s Second-Round Tee Times

10:05 a.m.–Keegan Bradley.

10:10 a.m.–Brooks Koepka, Satoshi Kodaira.

10:20 a.m.–Brandt Snedeker, Scott Piercy.

10:30 a.m.–Aaron Wise, Ted Potter Jr.

10:40 a.m.–Francesco Molinari, Charles Howell III.

10:50 a.m.–Brice Garnett, Paul Casey.

11 a.m.–Billy Horschel, Troy Merritt.

11:10 a.m.–Matt Kuchar, Xander Schauffele.

11:20 a.m.–Michael Kim, Ian Poulter.

11:30 a.m.–Webb Simpson, Cameron Champ.

11:40 a.m.–Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson.

11:50 a.m.–Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed.

Noon–Jason Day, Rory McIlroy.

12:10 p.m.–Andrew Landry, Patton Kizzire.

12:20 p.m.–Marc Leishman, Andrew Putnam.

12:30 p.m.–Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson.

12:40 p.m.–Kevin Tway, Gary Woodland.

Rory McIlroy tees off on No. 1.