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USA Today Sports Media Group
Adam Schupak

Sahith Theegala’s birdie binge, Collin Morikawa’s emotional opening tee shot among 5 things to know from first round of The Sentry

Sahith Theegala is back for the second time at The Sentry. One year after he shot 10 under for 72 holes, he opened with 10 birdies on Thursday and shot 9-under 64 at Kapalua Resort’s Plantation Course to take a one-stroke lead over a bunched-up leaderboard on a low-scoring day thanks to calm conditions.

“I saw something about first timers not doing great here and I believe it,” he said.

Theegala, 26, proved to be a quick learner. He recorded the most birdies in a PGA Tour round in what was his 250th career round on Tour, including six in a row to start his back nine. Asked to name his favorite of the bunch, he picked the one at No. 12, saying, “Had a really gnarly 8- or 9-footer that I didn’t know which way it was going to break, grain was going all over the place. I just aimed it dead center and tried to hit it hard and hearted that putt, and that settled me down a little bit more.”

Theegala, who notched his first Tour title at the Fortinet Championship in September, has the lead after 18 holes for the second time in his career over a handful of players.

The scoring average was almost 4-under as the wind laid down.

Here’s four more things to know about the first round of The Sentry.

The Sentry: Photos | Friday tee times, how to watch

Morikawa making birdies for Hawaii relief

Collin Morikawa acknowledges the crowd after making his putt on the 18th hole during the first round of The Sentry golf tournament at Kapalua Golf – The Plantation Course. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Collin Morikawa has won two major championships and experienced the heights of the game but the honor of hitting the first tee shot at The Sentry on Thursday at Kapalua Resort’s Plantation Course on Maui he said was as good as it gets.

“I can talk about final rounds, last shots, first tee, final group and those in the majors, but that was as big of an honor as I could have had,” he said. “Not because it was the first tournament of the year, but because it was out here in Maui, everything that this week represents for me. It just means that much more.”

That’s because a series of wild fires broke out in August in the state of Hawaii, predominantly causing devastation in Maui and not far from Kapalua at Lahaina’s Front Street. Morikawa’s grandfather once owned a restaurant there.

“I wasn’t on the first tee for the opening ceremony, but I heard it as I was walking up to go to the range. It got a little bit emotional,” Morikawa said. “I think just because I know what everyone has gone through, you hear it from these families, and you meet everyone out here on the island that knows someone or has been affected firsthand. Maui’s small. Hawaii’s very, very small. People know everyone. Just got emotional. Being able to hit that first tee shot, it was an honor just to be able to do that and, yeah, it’s a great way to kick off the new year.”

So is shooting a bogey-free 8-under 65 in the first round. Morikawa is donating $2,000 for every birdie and $4,000 for every eagle. Six birdies and an eagle at the par-5 ninth equaled $16,000 for the first round, a figure that his apparel sponsor Adidas agreed to match.

Morikawa, who blew a six-stroke lead heading into the final round last year at The Sentry, is just one stroke off the lead and playing for a higher purpose this week. He was most pleased with how he flighted the ball and controlled spin.

“Out here you just got to be able to hit shots and I think the next three days with the wind probably picking up to normal or higher winds you just got to be able to see the shot and really feel it and have control of the spin on the golf ball, that’s the ultimate thing,” he said. “It’s all about spin control, it really is. Especially as soft the greens are, especially when you’re hitting up into the grain. You just got to have to control the height and spin and just kind of feel it from there.”

Villegas returns after nine-year absence

Camilo Villegas lines up his putt on the 18th hole during the first round of The Sentry golf tournament at Kapalua Golf – The Plantation Course. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Camilo Villegas made birdie on half the holes on Thursday en route to an 8-under 65. He made only one par on the back nine.

“The putter was hot,” he said. “I had a good feel on the lines, good feel on the speed.”

It is a continuation of the strong play that saw Villegas, who turns 42 on Sunday, go from battling for status to his fifth PGA Tour title at the Bermuda Championship and fourth trip to start the year at Kapalua and first in nine years.

“Sometimes you kind of fear kind of losing your job and not being able to do what we do, because I like to compete,” Villegas said. “It’s nice to be here, nice to be back with the big boys, and nice to get to a good start today.”

Villegas is the oldest player to open with a 65 or lower at The Sentry since Jack Nicklaus in 1983 at age 43 when the tournament was held at La Costa Resort in Carlsbad, California.

Schauffele leads in SG: Off the Tee

Xander Schauffele hits his tee shot on the third hole during the first round of The Sentry golf tournament at Kapalua Golf – The Plantation Course. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Xander Schauffele took advantage of calm conditions and posted a bogey-free 7-under 66.

“I got a text this morning saying it was going to be super windy, and it was pretty benign today,” he said.

Schauffele adjusted on the fly and ranked first in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee in the first round. Schauffele heated up on the back nine, beginning with a 22-foot putt for birdie at No. 10, the longest birdie he made all day.

Schauffele, who won this tournament in 2019, said he’ll be ready for the wind when it picks it up.

“I saw that little breeze logo on the weather app, so I think it’s going to be pretty windy tomorrow,” he said.

Day's back-nine birdie binge

Jason Day of Australia prepares to putt on the second green during the first round of The Sentry at Plantation Course at Kapalua Golf Club on January 04, 2024 in Kapalua, Hawaii. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Jason Day hasn’t been absent from Kapalua quite as long as Villegas, but this is his first trip back to Maui since 2019.

“I just can’t help but feel thankful to be able to play this game, and be here healthy and enjoying golf, which is a good thing,” he said. “I still want to compete and play well and try and win this tournament. So, three more days to go, but I feel very lucky to be here.”

New apparel sponsor — Malbon — but same strong play. Day, 36, who teamed with Lydia Ko to win the Grant Thornton Invitational in December, made seven birdies and an eagle to join the logjam at 8-under 65.

“I was thinking, if I could get 2-, 3-under on the front side, which ended up 2-under and then there’s definitely a lot more opportunities on the back side,” he said. “I felt like I just really kind of found my footing in the middle part of my round.”

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