They were together all Thursday morning, playing in the same group at the Sony Open and taking the top two spots on the leaderboard. Bae played bogey-free for 7-under-par 63. Kirk shot 29 on the back nine at Waialae, including an eagle on the last hole, for 64.
They were among the early starters in the first full-field event of the year on the PGA Tour, and they took advantage of a gorgeous day.
“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.”
Retief Goosen, finally feeling better after missing another big chunk of the year with back problems, slept awkwardly on his neck and was sore during the pro-am. That apparently healed quickly. He was in the group at 66 with Harris English, Jimmy Walker and John Daly.
Daly and Hideto Tanihara were the only players at 66 or better from the morning group who were not at Kapalua last week for the Sony Open.
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 puts 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.
Masters Tournament champion Adam Scott, with pro surfer Benji Weatherley filling in as his caddie, birdied his last two holes for 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.
Bae, who won his first PGA Tour event
last year at the Byron Nelson Championship, is coming up on three weeks in a row in Hawaii. It was too cold in South Korea to practice, so he came to the islands on Dec. 20 to practice and relax 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.”