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KAPALUA, Hawaii – The surf, the sun and endless views of island paradise can make the SBS Tournament of Champions feel like a working vacation. Ryan Moore and Justin Thomas were among those putting the emphasis on work at Kapalua.
Thomas prepared more diligently than he did a year ago, particularly on straightening out his driver. He has made 13 birdies in two rounds, making seven of them Friday for a 6-under 67. That was enough to share the lead with Moore, who birdied four of his last five holes for a 67.
They were at 12-under 134, one shot ahead of Patrick Reed (65) and Jimmy Walker (70).
Moore, coming off a Ryder Cup debut that elevated his stature, said it could be easy to fall into the trap of island life. He has worked that out of his system.
"If I'm at a golf tournament, I'm here to golf and I'm here to play a golf tournament," he said. "Doesn't mean I can't go hang out with my son and play on the beach for a few minutes afterward, but I'm not going to do anything to wear myself out and exhaust myself so the next day I'm tired on the golf course. Everything I do, and all the decisions I make, are to play a tournament. But it is easy to let that other side of it happen."
He poured in a 25-foot birdie on the 12th hole, and work felt easier. Moore twice hit wedges to tap-in range for birdie as part of his strong finish strong finish.
Thomas knows when it's time to play on the beach. That's usually in the Bahamas, with plenty on Instagram as evidence when he's on Spring Break or celebrating a buddy's birthday. He said he prepared more this time for the first PGA Tour event of the year, and the he's getting the result he expects.
Asked the difference between his preparations this year and last year, when he finished 19 shots out of the lead, Thomas said, "I just prepared, actually."
"I obviously practiced and prepared last year, but I just didn't as much as I should have," he said. "I didn't take it like a normal event. I mean, this is a great, great opportunity to win a golf tournament. This is your best chance. You only have to beat 30 people, or however many it is. They're all great players, but I'll take my chances over 32 versus 144 every single week."
They weren't the only players on their games.
As many as six players were tied for the lead at one point on another picturesque afternoon along the rugged coast of Maui. One of them was Hideki Matsuyama, going for his fourth straight victory worldwide, until he tried to clear the gorge on the 17th from thick rough and paid for it. He made double bogey, and a birdie on the last hole for a 68 — his 12th straight round in the 60s on the PGA Tour — left him three shots behind.
Reed is still struggling with an illness and learned the limits of what he can do when not playing so well. He hit every green in regulation for the first time in his PGA Tour career and missed only one fairway.
Walker, who had a two-shot lead after the opening round, saw too many putts burn the edge of the cup. He finally dropped a shot on the 17th when he choked down to the shaft of a wedge from thick rough and didn't reach the green. A birdie on the final hole still kept him in the mix to atone for a playoff loss at Kapalua two years ago.
Jordan Spieth also was in the mix, but only briefly. The defending champion ran off nine birdies, five of them after taking a double bogey on the par-3 eighth hole. But he hooked a tee shot into the hazard on the 17th, hit his next into another hazard and missed a 4-foot putt to take triple bogey. Spieth shot a 69 and was seven shots back and sounded as though his tournament was all but over.
"I'll struggle for the next couple hours getting over 17 kind of throwing me out of the tournament," Spieth said.
Jason Day, the world No. 1 who is playing for the first time since September, had a 69 and was five shots behind.
Moore would agree that this should be one of the easier ones with a small field. The Tour Championship was a 30-man field, though everyone there was in top form. At Kapalua, some players have gone some two months without competition.
"You need to make birdies. That's all there is to it," he said. "I'm looking forward to it, and it's fun to be in contention going into the weekend the first tournament out of the gate this year."