Thomas starts slow in defense of title

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Justin Thomas collected the Jack Nicklaus Award as the PGA Tour player of the year a couple of days before heading to Malaysia in a bid to win his third successive CIMB Classic.


Little wonder then the two-time defending champion was slightly off his game in the first round on Thursday, managing only 2-under-par 70. He is six strokes behind leader Cameron Smith.

Smith opened with 64 and leads a PGA Tour event after the first round for the first time in 64 starts.

Keegan Bradley, Xander Schauffele and Poom Saksansinwere tied for second at 7-under.

Brendan Steele, coming off a victory last week at the Safeway Open, had an opening 67 to be three shots off the lead.

Thomas is aiming to be the first player to win the same tournament three years in a row since Steve Stricker at the John Deer Classic from 2009-11.

LPGA Tour: In Incheon, South Korea. Sung Hyun Park birdied her last two holes for 6-under-par 66 and a share of the lead in the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship as she bolstered her bid to win LPGA rookie of the year and player of the year.

Park was tied for the first-round lead with Min-Sun Kim and Minjee Lee.

Cristie Kerr, coming off a victory last week in France, was among those at 67.

Top-ranked So Yeon Ryu opened with 72, while Lexi Thompson had 69.

European Tour: In Monza, Italy, defending champion and home favorite Francesco Molinari was among six players who shared a one-stroke lead after the opening round of the Italian Open.

Jamie Donaldson, Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Eddie Pepperell, Matt Wallace and Alexander Bjork also shot 7-under-par 64s Tat the Golf Club Milano.

George Coetzee and An Byeong-hun were both one stroke back.

Masters champion Sergio Garcia stood in a group two strokes off the pace, while playing partner Jon Rahm was among those three shots behind.

Tommy Fleetwood, who leads the Race to Dubai ahead of Garcia and Rahm, had some ground to make up after 71.

U.S. Mid-Amateur: In Atlanta, Josh Nichols birdied the 18th hole to take a 1-up victory over Georgian Mark Harrell in the semifinals of the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship

Harrell, of Lookout Mountain, Ga., had pulled even with Nichols, of Kernerville, N.C., with a birdie on the 17th hole.

Nichols will take on Matt Parziale, of Brockton, Mass., in today’s finals with a spot in the 2018 Masters awaiting the winner. Parziale beat Dan Sullivan, of Pasadena, Calif., 5 and 4 in his semifinal match.