The 2024 PGA Tour season kicked off this week with The Sentry Tournament of Champions at the Plantation Course at Kapalua in Hawaii. Amidst an emotional start from defending champion Collin Morikawa, Sahith Theegala stole the show by shooting an opening round 8-under 64 to take a one shot lead.
Morikawa honors late friend and caddie with ceremonial tee shot
In the opening group with fellow major champions Scottie Scheffler and Justin Thomas, Morikawa broke down in tears as he hit his ceremonial first tee shot in honor of his late caddie J.J. Jakovac, who passed away suddenly this offseason:
“We love you, J.J. Let’s have a great week,” Morikawa said to begin the round before needing a minute to regain his composure and wipe away tears. Jakovac had been on Morikawa’s bag since he turned pro and was a close friend.
Morikawa went on to shoot a 4-under 69, currently tied for 7th place. The emotional start was a poignant reminder of the tight bonds between players and caddies out on Tour.
Theegala’s hot putter earns him 18-hole lead
While Morikawa was setting the toneearly on with his tribute, Theegala wasted no time heating up his putter on the soft greens at Kapalua. He rolled in nine birdies, including four straight on holes 5 through 8, in a bogey-free effort.
His 64 matched the best opening round score from last year’s tournament where Cameron Smith went wire-to-wire for the win. Theegala hit 15 greens in regulation and only needed 24 putts with hot putter.
Key Theegala putting stats:
|Putts per GIR
“I didn’t really hit it great off the tee today. But when I was in the fairway, I hit a lot of really good iron shots and gave myself a lot of chances. It was nice to see the putts fall,” Theegala said.
Theegala is searching for his first career PGA Tour win after a stellar rookie season that saw him finish 33rd in the FedExCup standings.
Hot on Theegala’s heels
While Theegala leads outright after the first round, four players are hot on his heels at just one shot back: J.J. Spaun, 2022 Rookie of the Year Tom Kim, recent Presidents Cup standout Taylor Montgomery, and 5-time Tour winner Aaron Wise.
Kim, who is coming off a breakout 2022 season with 2 wins, continued his strong play by making birdie on 5 of his final 8 holes en route to his 7-under 66. Montgomery’s bogey-free 67 was the highlight of the round for the reigning John Deere Classic champ.
Meanwhile, reigning FedExCup champion Rory McIlroy opted not to play this week. Other notable players in the elite winners-only field include Masters champions Scottie Scheffler, Patrick Cantlay, and Justin Thomas grouped together, along with Jordan Spieth, world #3 Jon Rahm, Viktor Hovland, and Xander Schauffele.
Past champions making their title defenses this week are 2022 winner Cameron Smith and 2021 champion Harris English. Smith has moved over to LIV Golf so will not be in attendance.
What to watch for
With Theegala on top for now, all eyes will turn to the weather forecast as the tournament moves into the second round. Rain and strong wind gusts up to 20 mph could play a big factor in scoring.
The Plantation Course is quite exposed without much tree coverage and plays extremely long at over 7,500 yards. Theegala will try to protect his lead as the chasers try to go even lower to catch him on the soggy greens.
Can big hitting Rahm tame the wind and soft conditions with his precise iron play en route to the first win? Will young guns Kim and Montgomery continue their rise with a statement win over all the seasoned champions in the field?
Make sure to tune into Golf Channel and NBC over the weekend to find out!
Looking ahead to 2024
After this winners-only event at Kapalua, the PGA Tour heads west for two full-field events in Hawaii – the Sony Open and The American Express. Tiger Woods also announced this week that he will make his 2024 debut at the star-studded Genesis Invitational in February as tournament host, adding even more intrigue and interest early in the calendar year.
With several newly elevated events bringing in lucrative $20 million purses, the race for FedExCup points and playoff positioning will have more intensity from wire-to-wire this season. Strap in for what looks to be another drama-filled year on Tour!
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