(Reuters) – Justin Thomas rattled off six birdies in a seven-hole stretch en route to a share of the first-round lead with Rickie Fowler and Harold Varner III at the Waste Management Phoenix Open on Thursday.
Jan 31, 2019; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; Justin Thomas (left) and Webb Simpson (right) walk to the green of the 15th hole during the first round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open golf tournament at TPC Scottsdale. Mandatory Credit: Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports
At seven-under-par 64, the trio led by one stroke from fellow American J.T. Poston and Scotland’s Martin Laird at TPC Scottsdale in Arizona.
While four of the world’s top five are playing on the European Tour in Saudi Arabia this week, number four Thomas is the lone exception.
He took a while to warm up on a crisp morning but there was no stopping him once he found his range.
Thomas rolled in a 10-foot birdie at his ninth hole, the par-four 18th, and then a series of brilliant approach shots left him with several tap-ins for birdie.
Earlier, he made an up-and-down par save from 175 yards at his second hole after finding water with his drive.
“I was very in control of everything tee to green,” Thomas told reporters.
“I didn’t necessarily get off to the greatest start score-wise but felt I was playing well.
“I just continued to stay patient and then was driving it well to where I had wedges and made some fairly low-stress birdies.”
Fowler also played early, and a 15-foot eagle at his fourth hole provided a launch pad for his round.
“I’ve had a lot of success here, played well,” said Fowler, who fought back tears after losing a playoff to Hideki Matsuyama three years ago.
Varner tied for the lead by sinking a 30-foot birdie putt at the par-three 16th, perhaps the only hole in golf where players expect to be roundly booed for bad shots.
Varner was cheered rather than jeered by the thousands of fans surrounding the hole.
“I love entertaining people,” he said.
“Any athlete would love to perform in front of people. That’s the coolest part about playing a professional sport, that you get to showcase how good you are.”
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Peter Rutherford