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Published September 19, 2015
If the first round of the Sony Open was any indication, it pays to get to paradise early.
Sang-Moon Bae said it was too cold in South Korea to do much more than take a long walk, so he showed up in Hawaii five days before Christmas and played Waialae Country Club three or four times before heading over to the Tournament of Champions last week on Kapalua.
He found a shorter course — and one that was easier to walk — much more enjoyable after opening with a 7-under 63 for a one-shot lead over Chris Kirk.
Kirk also was at Kapalua last week, as were Harris English and Jimmy Walker, who checked in at 66.
But there were more.
Retief Goosen spent nine days on Maui with his family. Even after a sore neck that sent him to get treatment after the pro-am round, he shot 66. Ryan Palmer also was on Maui last week for a week of family time, and he overcame an early bogey for a 66.
"I need to play good to pay for the trip," Palmer said.
Bae played bogey-free for his best score ever on the PGA Tour, doing most of his damage on the front nine with five birdies. He played alongside Kirk, who did his work on the back nine, including an eagle to finish his round of 64.
They had a better-ball score of 56. There were only five holes where both of them had to settle for par.
"He was off to a great start," Kirk said. "At one point he was 4-under and I was still 2-over. It took some catching up for me on the back nine. But it's always nice to see putts falling."
Brian Stuard had eight birdies in his round of 65, while John Daly was among those at 66.
Kapalua winner Zach Johnson opened with two bogeys before he settled into a 68. Jordan Spieth, who finished one shot behind Johnson last week in the Tournament of Champions, reached 3-under through 10 holes until he was slowed by a three-putt bogey from 20 feet on No. 12. That was the start of three bogeys in four holes, and the 20-year-old Texan had to settle for a 70.
There are not two courses 100 miles apart in the same state on consecutive weeks on the PGA Tour any more different.
Kapalua was built on the side of a mountain, with severe grain in the greens and massive changes in elevation. Waialae is flat, tight and tree-lined with small greens.
"I think I played well last week, but really tough greens," Bae said. "Very hard to read. I couldn't read any right-to-left putts — any putts — so I missed a lot of putts last week. But this course is more shorter than last week, so easy read, and I can make good speed, too."
Bae opened with a 7-iron to 3 feet on the opening hole, made a 25-footer for birdie on No. 3 and didn't miss a green until the 13th hole. He hit wedge to 15 feet to save par, and picked up his seventh and final birdie on the next hole.
Kirk had reason to believe this wasn't going to be his day when his ball got stuck in a tree on the sixth hole and he had to scramble for bogey, already 2 over. But a shot into tap-in range on the eighth hole sent him on his way, and an eagle brought him within one shot of Bae after the opening round.
Masters champion Adam Scott, with pro surfer Benji Weatherley filling in as his caddie, birdied his last two holes for a 67. It's not a bad start, but in these conditions, Scott realizes it needs to be better.
Daly can only hope this isn't just a false start. He had surgery on his elbow last summer, and hopes that his injuries are behind him. He made five birdies for a 66.
Bae, who won his first PGA Tour event last year at the Byron Nelson Championship, is coming up on three straight weeks in Hawaii. It was too cold in South Korea to practice, so he came to the islands on Dec. 20 to practice and relax on the beach for two weeks before the Tournament of Champions.
He played Waialae about three or four times, and feels like he knows the course better.
"I practiced a little bit and I had fun," he said. "Go to beach, go swim, everything. I like it here."