Malnati, Kokrak, Niemann Share Sony Lead at 62

Peter Malnati went out in perfect morning conditions at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu and played a nearly flawless round.

The 33-year-old Malnati, who has six victories as a professional, posted an 8-under-par 62 and is tied for the lead with Jason Kokrak and Joaquin Niemann of Chile after one round of the Sony Open in Hawaii.

“It felt good, very solid,” said Malnati, whose only victory on the PGA Tour came in the 2015 Sanderson Farms Championship. “Golf is never easy, but this almost felt easy today because it was pretty effortless. I was never too far out of position, except for one shot that I simply hit too well.

“The fairways really picked up speed today, but the greens were still receptive and holding good shots. … I just tried to keep the momentum going over the little (holiday) break and do just enough work to stay sharp, and to come out and play well here today.”

Malnati, who has won twice on what is now known the Korn Ferry Tour, tied his career low round with four birdies on the front nine, five on the back, and made his only bogey on the 13th hole when he hit his approach shot over the green.

Niemann, who lost in a playoff to Harris English last week in the Sentry TOC at Kapalua on Maui, holed out from 50 feet for an eagle on the final hole to cap another 62, while Kokrak collected four birdies on each nine to also tie for the lead.

“It was a good way to finish,” said Niemann, 22, who won the 2019 Military Tribute at the Greenbrier for his only PGA Tour victory. “Just happy the way I played. Nice chip-in to finish and will help me sleep for tomorrow.

“I hit the ball great off the tee. Hit my irons really close and made a lot of good putts. I think the only little mistake I had was on No. 12 that I just, I don’t know what happened, just hit a really firm putt and I just three-putted there. Other than that it was a pretty good day.”

Jim Herman, who missed the Sentry Tournament of Champions last week on Maui because he tested positive for Covid-19, holed out from 38 feet for an eagle on the ninth hole in a bogey-free 64 and is tied for fourth with Vaughn Taylor, who sank an 18-fot eagle putt on the ninth hole, Aaron Baddeley of Australia, Si Woo Kim of South Korea and Patton Kizzire, who holed out from 45 feet for an eagle on the ninth hole.

Billy Horshel finished his 65 with a 30-foot eagle putt on the ninth hole and is in a big tie for 10th with eighth-ranked Webb Simpson, Henrik Norlander of Sweden, Harry Higgs, Brendan Steele of Idyllwild and UC Riverside, C.T. Pan of Taiwan, J.T. Poston, Hudson Swafford, Mackenzie Hughes of Canada, Tom Hoge, David Hearn of Canada, Chase Seiffert and Chris Kirk, who made a seven-foot eagle putt on No. 18.

Fifth-ranked Collin Morikawa, the reigning PGA champion from La Canada Flintridge and Cal, is tied for 23rd at 66, and defending champion Cameron Smith of Australia shot 67 and is tied for 40th.

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