Chris Kirk’s hot start propelled him to a five-under 65 on Friday and a one-shot lead at the US PGA Tour’s Sony Open halfway over rookie Taylor Montgomery and JJ Spaun.
Kirk, who shared the overnight lead with Montgomery and three-time Grand Slam winner Jordan Spieth, opened with three birdies on the par-70 course at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu, Hawaii.
After a bogey on the sixth, he added three birdies, capping his round with a two-putt birdie on the par-5 18th hole for a total of 129, 11-under par.
Montgomery stayed in range at a four-under-par 66, and Spaun joined him at 130 at 64.
But Spieth hit a five-over-par 75 that featured six bogeys, including four in a row from eighth to eleventh.
Although darkness halted play with a handful of players still on the field, Spieth was destined to miss the cut.
He will be only the sixth player in the last 10 PGA Tour seasons to miss the cut after sharing the opening round lead.
“Just a bad day,” Spieth said. “I didn’t feel like it was much different. I hit a couple of bad shots off the tee.
“Other than that, I didn’t play that different. I just finished a rough foot here, right behind a tree here, it was a weird, weird day.”
By contrast, Kirk’s day could hardly have gone better.
“I felt good going into today and after playing really well yesterday, you want to go out there and hit some solid shots and get comfortable,” he said.
“I didn’t relax at all. I really putt a good one on one, and then a couple of pitching wedges on two and three that I hit pretty close.”
He needed a good par save in the fifth and was raw off the tee en route to his bogey in the sixth, but he made three more birdies on the back nine and was “never really under any kind of stress”.
Kirk, who took a break from the sport in 2019 to deal with alcohol abuse and depression, is chasing a fifth US PGA Tour title, but his first since Colonial in 2015.
He said he’s enjoying the challenge of trying to get back in the winner’s circle.
“It’s very difficult to be good in this game professionally mentally,” he said. “I think I definitely always remind myself that pressure is a privilege when you start to get a little nervous.”
Spaun was briefly at the top of the standings after his seventh birdie of the day, a 13-footer on the seventh hole, moved him to 11 under par. But he bogeyed his last hole, the par-5 ninth.
“Just a bad swing,” Spaun said. “I’m in a good place for tomorrow and the weekend.”
Spaun is chasing a second US PGA Tour title after winning the Texas Open last season. Montgomery, a rookie who enjoyed a strong drop swing, is chasing the first.
“I definitely feel like I could win at any time,” he said. “I hope to do it soon.”