Thomas, Kuchar join Simpson atop leaderboard in Hawaii

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Honolulu, HI ( - Justin Thomas exploded up the leaderboard with a second-round, 9-under 61 on Friday, while Matt Kuchar carded a 7-under 63 and they both joined Webb Simpson in the lead at the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Simpson, who finished round one tied for first with Paul Casey, carded a 4- under 66. Thomas and Kuchar joined Simpson at 12-under-par 128 and they hold a 2-shot lead heading into the weekend at Waialae Country Club.

Kuchar has seven career victories on the PGA Tour, while Simpson has four wins, including the 2012 U.S. Open title. Thomas, a rookie, has never won on tour.

Troy Merritt (64) and Tim Clark (65) are both tied for third at 10-under 130. Right behind them are Russell Knox (65) and Rory Sabbatini (67) at minus-9.

Casey managed to shoot an even-par 70 and he is tied for eighth with defending champion Jimmy Walker (66), Marc Leishman (62), Ryan Palmer (63), J.J. Henry (67) and Robert Streb (69) at 8-under 132.

Thomas, already playing in his sixth event of the season, made the biggest jump up the leaderboard Friday, a round that featured a spectacular finish. Playing the back nine first, Thomas started off with six straight pars before the birdies started to fall.

The 21-year-old then rattled off three straight gains from No. 16 and he made the turn at minus-3. Thomas drained two more birdies on two and five, putting him at 5-under for the day and 8-under for the week heading to the par-3 seventh.

Still four shots behind the leaders, Thomas finished on fire. After rolling in a 12-foot birdie putt on seven, Thomas poured in another gain on eight, getting him to within two of Kuchar and Simpson. Thomas then hit the green in two on the par-5 ninth and made a 17-foot eagle putt to complete an incredible round and vault him into a tie for the lead.

"I'm excited. It's a position I haven't been in before and I think that kind of comes with the territory being a rookie," said Thomas. "I'm going to hopefully find myself in a lot of positions this year ... I'm just really excited about the opportunity."

Kuchar, playing alongside Simpson for the second straight day, was very consistent on Friday. The No. 11 player in the world made three birdies on the front nine at two, five and nine, making the turn at minus-3.

Kuchar then rolled in three more birdies on 10, 12 and 13. The 36-year-old then sandwiched a birdie on 16 in between four pars to finish up his round.

"I drove it really well and when you drive it well the course becomes much more attackable," said Kuchar. "It was a much better ball-striking round for me and I've continued two days of really good putting."

Simpson, who ditched the belly putter and is using a conventional putter for the first time as a professional this week, had another good day on the greens. Following four straight pars to start the day, Simpson tripped to his only bogey on No. 5. He responded with birdies on six and nine, putting Simpson at minus-1 as he made the turn.

Like the start of the front nine, Simpson made four straight pars from No. 10 to begin the back side. The U.S. Open champion finished strong with three birdies over his final five holes on 14, 15 and 18.

"It's felt good," Simpson said about using the new putter. "I've been nervous to get started this season using a short putter, but just thankful ... Thankfully I'm 12-under and have had a good start."

NOTES: Thomas finished one shot off the course record of 60, which was set by Davis Love III in 1994. Love went on to finish runner-up that year ... Thomas won the Nationwide Children's Hospital Championship in the Tour Finals Series last season ... Kuchar's last win came at the RBC Heritage last season ... Simpson last won at last season's Shriners Hospitals for Children Open ... Matt Every was disqualified for using a non-conforming club ... With the cut falling at 2-under 138, 85 players advanced to the weekend.