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Thomas, Johnson ready to get year underway at Kapalua

Sentry Tournament of Champions

Defending champion Justin Thomas tees off on the Kapalua Plantation Course’s 14th hole during Wednesday’s Sentry Tournament of Champions pro-am. The tournament starts today. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

Before the turmoil going on in Washington, D.C., canceled the final two news conferences on the eve of the Sentry Tournament of Champions, Justin Thomas gave thanks for being at the Kapalua Plantation Course.

The world’s third-ranked player and defending champion here finished his news conference Wednesday before the scheduled interviews with world No. 2 Jon Rahm and No. 5 Bryson DeChambeau were scrubbed.

PGA Tour officials confirmed to The Maui News that the final two interviews were called off because of the unrest in the nation’s capital during which supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol.

No one asked Thomas about the happenings nearly 5,000 miles away. He was just happy to be here– the field of 42 is impressive, the largest field in the history of the 78-year-old tournament that moved to Maui in 1999.

“The field is incredible this year. I think everyone’s jonesing to play,” Thomas said — the first round of the event is today and it concludes Sunday on the 7,596-yard, par-73 Plantation Course. The winner will collect $1.34 million of the $6.7 million purse.

Collin Morikawa putts on the 18th hole Wednesday.

Thomas’ interview session came moments after world No. 1 Dustin Johnson finished his media obligations.

“And I know myself, D.J. and I talked about it yesterday — I mean, you can put us two on a list of we’ll never turn this place down if we have the opportunity to come here,” Thomas said. “It’s an unbelievable place to start the year, it’s so relaxing, it’s enjoyable, and it’s a great tournament to have the opportunity to start your year off with a victory.

“So I’m excited to be here and I know I love getting a win or trying to get a win early in the season so I can get myself back.”

Thomas is among the many golfers here impressed with the Plantation Course one year after a $10 million refinement was done just prior to last year’s event.

He said the scoring could be stellar this week.

Jon Rahm follows the flight of his tee shot on the ninth hole Wednesday.

“The fairways were, I was blown away when I came out on Sunday and played, I mean they were in perfect shape, the greens were in really, really good shape, everything’s healthy, the greens are substantially softer than last year, so I mean the course will play quite a bit easier,” Thomas said. “But it’s still soft. I mean they get so much rain here that it’s going to be hard for it to play firm and fast.

“So the course is great, it’s been great to come and see how the course has grown in from last year. I’m sure the greens will get a little bit quicker from what they have been the last couple days.”

Johnson is also happy to be here. Like Thomas, he has two wins here, in 2013 and 2018.

“Yeah, this is a place that I love coming every year. It’s a goal to get back here every year. Obviously, if you’re here, you won,” Johnson said. “This year’s a little bit different. If you made the Tour Championship you got here. But every other year if you won a tournament you get to play here.

“So it’s something I’ve always enjoyed, playing here.”

Dustin Johnson chips to the ninth green.

Also like Thomas, Johnson is impressed with the shape the Plantation Course is in.

“I like the golf course. This year I think it’s in the best shape I’ve ever seen it,” he said. “So, it’s still a little bit soft, but you can’t really do anything about the weather. It seems like it just keeps raining every night.”

Johnson admits he’s a little rusty after not practicing much in the last month and a half since he won the Masters in mid-November.

“I mean, this is a good week. It’s okay to be a little bit rusty,” Johnson said. “The fairways are nice and wide and there’s still some shots, you got to hit some really quality golf shots, but I feel like I’ve had the last week or so to play a little bit, so I’m not — I’m rusty, but not too rusty.”

Alex Urban, the tournament’s executive director, said the event’s “ticketed guest allotment” is sold out. A limited number of fans will only be allowed to gather around the 18th green, and no roaming of the course is permissible because of the PGA Tour’s COVID-19 protocols.

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

Sentry Tournament of Champions

Today’s First-Round Tee Times

At Kapalua Plantation Course

9:10 a.m.–Martin Laird, Hudson Swafford.

9:20 a.m.–Steward Cink, Robert Streb.

9:30 a.m.–Brian Gay, Sergio Garcia.

9:40 a.m.–Michael Thompson, Andrew Landry.

9:50 a.m.–Nick Taylor, Carlos Ortiz.

10 a.m.–Adam Scott, Jason Kokrak.

10:10 a.m.–Patrick Cantlay, Richy Werenski.

10:20 a.m.–Marc Leishman, Billy Horschel.

10:30 a.m.–Kevin Na, Joaquin Niemann.

10:40 a.m.–Ryan Palmer, Cameron Champ.

10:50 a.m.–Kevin Kisner, Cameron Smith.

11 a.m.–Brendon Todd, Bryson DeChambeau.

11:10 a.m.–Abraham Ancer, Viktor Hovland.

11:20 a.m.–Tony Finau, Lanto Griffin.

11:30 a.m.–Hideki Matsuyama, Daniel Berger.

11:40 a.m.–Harris English, Mackenzie Hughes.

11:50 a.m.–Webb Simpson, Sungjae Im.

Noon–Patrick Reed, Sebastian Munoz.

12:10 p.m.–Scottie Scheffler, Collin Mori­kawa.

12:20 p.m.–Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele.

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

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