Golf's young stars make Sony Open sing

Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
That 59 that Justin Thomas shot on Thursday is a signal that the next generation is ready to take over -- or already has.
By
Dave Reardon
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Series: PGA Tour

Published: Friday, January 13, 2017 | 2:22 p.m.

Too often, the Sony Open in Hawaii has been defined by who is not here.

Where's Tiger Woods? Where's Phil Mickelson?

The two biggest golf stars of the past two decades never deigned to play in what for most of that era was the first full-field event of the PGA season.

Who skips Opening Day? Golf's different than most sports; if you're good enough you can play when you want to play.

But maybe that doesn't matter here anymore. Maybe the torch has been passed.

Where's Justin Thomas? Where's Jordan Spieth?

They're right here, at Waialae Country Club.

That 59 that Thomas shot on Thursday is a signal that the next generation is ready to take over -- or already has.

And what a blast of adrenalin for this event.

SONY OPEN: Check out the leaderboard, live stream from Hawaii | Best photos from Waialae

The casual golf fan on Oahu now has a reason to come out to Waialae this weekend, even if Tadd Fujikawa, Parker McLachlin or any of the other local players don't make the cut.

When a young star makes history like Thomas just did in the first round, it's fair to expect a ratings boost for the rest of the tournament, too.

With an eagle on his final hole of the first round, Thomas became just the seventh player to break 60 in a PGA Tour event. This comes on the heels of his victory last week at the SBS Tournament of Champions at Kapalua.

That was pretty dramatic, too, as he finished with two birdies to hold off Hideki Matsuyama (yet another young rising star).

Thomas was asked which is bigger for him ... winning the all-champs event Sunday, or breaking 60 on Thursday.

"I would say on paper it would be today," he said. "I'm only the eighth or something like that to do it, seventh. I would say history-wise -- I have a chance to win a golf tournament every week. I don't have many chances to shoot 59."

MORE: Jordan Spieth, Smylie Kaufman go on post-round Hawaiian adventure

At age 23, he is the youngest to join the 59 Club by 3 1/2 years. David Duval was 27 when he did it in 1999, and Thomas and Duval are the only two to do it by making an eagle on the final hole of the round.

This is just Thomas' third Sony Open in Hawaii. But we already knew he could shoot low at Waialae; he fired a 61 in the second round of his debut here in 2015, on the way to a sixth-place tie.

"It's enjoyable just to be here, let alone play golf against the best players and some of the highest fields," Thomas said, when asked about being at the top of his game in Hawaii.

His previous two PGA Tour victories are back-to-back wins at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia.

There's still a long way to go for win No. 4 if he's going to get it here and complete a Hawaii sweep. Hudson Swafford is three back, Rory Sabbatini just four, and a pack of eight is tied another shot back at 6 under.

For a while early on his afternoon back nine, it looked like Sabbatini (who has a 62 to his credit here) had a chance to catch Thomas.

Forecasters predict continued benign conditions, including a lack of wind. If that comes to fruition, the Waialae layout will be just as defenseless as it was Thursday for the rest of the tournament, and five strokes back with three rounds to play is definitely striking range.

That's assuming Thomas falters.

If he doesn't, the four-year-old 72-hole record of 24-under 256 -- set by Russell Henley, among those who shot 64 on Thursday -- is within reach.

I remember when there was just one "Mr. 59." Al Geiberger, who was second at the 1975 Hawaiian Open, held that distinction for 14 years before Chip Beck became the second. They and Duval shot 13-under in their rounds, on par-72 courses.

Jim Furyk is the only player to go under 60 twice, and he fired a 12-under 58 last August for the least number of shots ever in a PGA Tour round.

Even though it's been eclipsed, 59 is still 59 ... it's a magical number for not just golf, but for all of sports. It's 60 home runs, it's a 4-minute mile -- matched and surpassed, but still special and rare.

Thursday it served as affirmation that a new, young breed of golfers own the stage now.

We always knew it could happen at Waialae. Davis Love III was the closest, with his 60 in 1994.

Of course, the question now is what will Justin Thomas do for an encore.

We get three more days here to see. And hopefully, many more years.

This article is written by Dave Reardon from The Honolulu Star-Advertiser and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network.